Sorry, Bob Dylan fans. It appears performances in support of Lost on the River: The New Basement Tapes (the T Bone Burnett-produced collection of new music for abandoned Dylan lyrics) will be limited to a lone exhilarating concert. On Thursday night at the Montalban Theater in Hollywood, the New Basement Tapes team played for a packed house full of enthusiastic invitees.
Elvis Costello, Marcus Mumford, Jim James of My Morning Jacket, Dawes’ Taylor Goldsmith and Rhiannon Giddens of Carolina Chocolate Drops formed an estimable front line of revolving instrumentation, each taking turns romping through the rootsy effort that took stylistic turns with every new song. As an added bonus, Haim sang backup on several numbers and Johnny Depp played guitar on three cuts. Slower songs were saved the encore, making the presentation more consistently upbeat than the album, a vibrant addition to the canon of Dylan-related projects.
Twenty songs were performed over the course of an hour and 45 minutes, the musical styles ranging from late ’70s British punk to Appalachian mountain music to contemporary folk-rock. The lyrics hit Dylan touchstones of waterways, trains, Biblical figures and the Midwest: three songs are concerned with spending too much time in or leaving Kansas City, and another hails a woman in St. Louis.
“We didn’t know we were doing this until yesterday,” Burnett told the crowd that included Capitol Music Group chairman Steve Barnett, Jakob Dylan, Sarah Silverman, actor Michael Sheehan and, backstage, Johnny Depp.
About a year ago, Dylan handed Burnett a collection of lyrics circa the Basement Tapes era, from which Burnett and his friends produced 44 songs that were recorded in 12 days up the street from the Montalban at Capitol Studios. The troupe has already promoted the album with a performance on The Tonight Show on Nov. 10; prior to the concert they taped an appearance on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. Mumford said they spent a single day learning the songs for the concert.
As on the album, James opened the show with “Down on the Bottom,” the one track on the 20-song collection that comes closest to echoing the atmosphere of the original Basement Tapes that Dylan recorded with the Band in 1967 and ’68.
Beyond the opener, the songs flowed in the styles associated with singer delivering it. In Costello’s case, the music tapped his early days as a force of bitterness in the British New Wave, as well as his more recent rural composing style. Goldsmith, an impressive multi-instrumentalist, framed Dylan’s lyrics in the style of early ’70s heart-on-the-sleeve folk-rock.
Giddens, who alternated between fiddle and fretless banjo, connected with the folk music that influenced Dylan, ending the main section of the show with what she called “a psychedelic hoedown” on “Duncan and Jimmy” that was as rooted in tradition as it was a free-form 21st century rock jam.
James, whose voice soared blissfully above the clamor, often opted for the experimental side of his My Morning Jacket work, while Mumford played it conservative, shining brightest on “Whistle is Blowing.”
Down on the Bottom (Jim James)
Spanish Mary (Rhiannon Giddens)
Liberty Street (Taylor Goldsmith)
Married to My Hack (Elvis Costello)
The Whistle is Blowing (Marcus Mumford with Haim)
Diamond Ring (Goldsmith)
Nothing to It (James)
Lost on the River (Costello)
Florida Key (Goldsmith)
Hidee Hidee Hidee Ho (Giddens)
Hidee Hidee Hidee Ho (James)
Down on the Bottom (Costello)
Kansas City (Mumford with Haim; Johnny Depp on guitar)
Duncan and Jimmy (Giddens, Depp on guitar)
When I Get My Hands on You (Mumford)
Lost on the River (Giddens)
Card Shark (Goldsmith)
Quick Like a Flash (James)
Golden Tom – Silver Judas (Costello)