That there is a “sucker born every minute” is an axiom commonly attributed to P. T. Barnum. The hype man’s math was conservative, though. The rubes are everywhere and exponential if last week’s weird, ballyhooed music events from Bob Dylan and Kanye West are any indication.
On July 18, Dylan livestreamed a performance that turned out to be no concert at all. Shadow Kingdom was an artfully shot pretaped presentation of a band miming to old-timey but new renditions of vintage Dylan tunes, with the man himself possibly lip-synching the vocals.
Tickets to watch the 50-minute film on Live Nation’s livestreaming platform Veeps were priced at US$25. We don’t know where the show was taped. The postshow credits mentioned the “Bon Bon Club in Marseille,” which appears to be a fictitious venue. More like it, Dylan was back at the old Gaslight Cafe, symbolically at least.
Four days later, about 40,000 people flocked to Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, not for a concert, but for a listening party arranged to promote the next day’s release of West’s album Donda (named after his late mother).
Ticket prices ranged from US$20 to US$50 for a show also livestreamed on Apple Music. West showed up 90 minutes late, walked around on a snow-white field as the new tracks boomed through the stadium, barely said a word and, according a menu posted online, charged US$50 for chicken tenders.
A long-time rap-music riddle and a perpetual enigma, West smothered his head in pantyhose – bank-robber style, his face obscured.
Confused fans were left hanging when Donda failed to materialize on Friday as planned. The failed presidential candidate and the master of the much-delayed album had messed with his followers again. Word is that the record, his 10th, will now be released on Aug. 6. We shall see.
Earlier this year, the stock price of concert conglomerate Live Nation hit an all-time high. How did that happen, what with the live music industry still locked down because of COVID-19 at that point? Well, Wall Street believed the appetite for live music to be near insatiable. And, now, music fans are double-vaccinated and ready to spend to the max.
For a show by a reunited Genesis this November at Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena, upper-balcony seating – the cheap seats! – are fetching more than $200 a ticket. The prog-rock band hasn’t released a studio album this century and is led by a drummer, Phil Collins, who no longer is physically able to play his instrument for a full concert.
But at least the Genesis tour will involve actual live music. The shows from West and Dylan were of the pseudo kind.
Those two artists are icons of their genres and generations. They are oddballs, provocateurs and sometime geniuses. To that list, let’s add bamboozlers.
“You’re a man of the mountains, you can walk on the clouds,” Dylan sang in 1983, on the Infidels track Jokerman; “Manipulator of crowds, you’re a dream twister.” West, on Monster, from 2010′s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, rapped with a megalomaniac’s audacity, “My presence is a present.”
It’s quite a trick these two jokermen pull off routinely: Their impulse to alienate is seen by fans as an endearing trait. To love these musicians is to be frustrated by them.
Mind you, Dylan disciples probably got their money’s worth with Shadow Kingdom. It was vaguely prebilled as a presentation of “the early songs of Bob Dylan,” which is what it was. The 80-year-old troubadour’s voice was in fine, if esophageal, form. The choreographed performance was immaculate. Reviewers uniformly raved afterward.
Classics and lesser-known nuggets from his catalogue were transformed by drum-free arrangements that favoured accordions and sometimes mandolins. Dylan actually enunciated. “Is the whole thing going backwards?” he asked on What Was it You Wanted?. “Are they playing our song?”
The film from the Israeli-American director Alma Har’el had Dylan and his band “playing” in a juke joint from a bygone era. A clock on the wall stayed at 10:12; time stood still as a small crowd of hired exhalers puffed cigarettes relentlessly. During I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight, Dylan winked – or maybe it was smoke in his eye.
Canadian fans who took in Shadow Kingdom may have noticed a stylistic resemblance to an episode of the CBC series Quest from 1964 that featured Dylan. I thought the monochrome noir could have been inspired by Vancouver singer-songwriter Jill Barber’s Live From the Palomar, a livestreamed performance from 2020 that was set in a computer-generated nightclub, circa 1935. “I’ll let you be in my stream if I can be in yours,” to paraphrase an old Dylan song.
Shadow Kingdom closed with It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue, and let’s hope these kind of faux shows are indeed done with. The live concert industry is back in business in the United States. This past weekend’s mega rap festival Rolling Loud took over Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium for three days.
Not surprisingly, Kanye cancelled his set there on short notice. Fool us once, shame on Dylan and West. Fool us twice – by all means, say their fans. They just can’t seem to get enough of the nonsense.
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