The all-star concert that occurred at New York City’s Madison Square Garden on October 16, 1992 served as a commemoration of the 30-year anniversary of Bob Dylan’s debut album. Though it was released as a double-disc CD and VHS cassette the following year, the 50th anniversary of Dylan’s recording career would come and go before The 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration found its way to DVD. The wait is over. Though still not quite complete (George Harrison’s “If Not For You,” Sophie B. Hawkins’ “I Want You,” George Thorogood’s “Wanted Man”—heck, even Dylan himself doing “Song to Woody”—are all MIA), this is a heaping serving of music (sourced from newly remastered audio and video; presumably even better on the also-available Blu-ray).
One of the most impressive aspects of the concert is the cross-section of genres that united to honor the songwriting of Bob Dylan. While the bill leans heavily towards rockers of Dylan’s vintage, there’s a mix of folk, country, soul, and a few then-young guns thrown in for good measure. Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder and Mike McCready hadn’t been on the music scene long when they contributing a stirring reading of “Masters of War.” Tracy Chapman added an unaccompanied, impassioned version of “The Times They are a’Changin’.”
Coming off the intensely negative reaction to her appearance on Saturday Night Live two weeks earlier, Sinead O’Connor was greeted by a wildly mixed reaction of cheers and boos. Her a capella version of “War” (the same song she tore up a picture of Pope John Paul II to on SNL). Popularized by Bob Marley, it’s the only non-Dylan song of the show and remains a startlingly unusual moment. A soundcheck take on her originally planned number, “I Believe in You,” is a bonus cut on the newly reissued CD version.
Among the additional highlights: Stevie Wonder reprising his teenage hit, “Blowin’ in the Wind,” Neil Young powering through “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” and “All Along the Watchtower,” Willie Nelson’s take on “What Was it You Wanted,” and Eric Clapton’s scorching reinvention of “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright.” Let’s face it, there really aren’t any off moments in the show, so take your pick. Of course, nobody does Dylan like Dylan. The man of the hour himself is in fine form, backing himself on guitar for “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” and the show-closing “Girl from the North Country.”
As the liner notes point out, quite a few of these talents are no longer with us, which only emphasizes how lucky we are to have this concert preserved. George Harrison made his final major U.S. concert appearance here, performing “Absolutely Sweet Marie” (he also chimes in for a verse of “My Back Pages”). Booker T. & The M.G.’s bassist Donald “Duck” Dunn was a member of the house band (along with fellow M.G.’s Steve Cropper and Booker T. Jones himself).
A partial reunion of The Band included the late Levon Helm, Rick Danko, and latter-day member Richard Bell performing “When I Paint My Masterpiece.” Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash duetted on “It Ain’t Me Babe.” Two artists who passed in 2013, Richie Havens and Lou Reed, offered priceless renditions of classics—the former tackled a well-known hit (“Just Like a Woman”), while latter rocked out on a Bootleg Series Vol. 1-3 obscurity (“Foot of Pride”).
The two-disc DVD set includes a terrific, 40-minute “Behind the Scenes” that features interviews with many of the featured artists, along with rehearsal footage. These folks are so unabashedly open and enthusiastic in their admiration of Dylan, it’s fun to hear them geeking out about being part of such an assembly. There is also a trio of bonus performances that help fill some of the gaps in the original show: “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat” by John Mellencamp, “Boots of Spanish Leather” by Nancy Griffith (with Carolyn Hester), and “Gotta Serve Somebody” by Booker T. & The M.G.’s.
A truly one-of-a-kind honoring of a living legend, The 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration is an essential part of any popular music fan’s collection.