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Cat Power Brings Dylan's Legendary Vienna Concert into the Present

Cat Power Brings Dylan's Legendary Vienna Concert into the Present

Pop and rock music has long since made its way to the museum, with bands and musical adaptations. Often it’s a matter of nostalgia. Sometimes the tributes are certainly warranted. The songs Bob Dylan performed on his legendary 1966 tour need to be heard now — “in difficult times,” as Cat Power said Thursday. Their performance of Dylan’s “Royal Albert Hall Concert” at the concert hall confirmed that, and it was beautiful.

The story behind the future Nobel laureate’s ’66 concert tour with the Hawks, which later became the Band, is well known to music buffs. Dylan played half-acoustic and then wowed folk purists with an electric set. “Judas!” shouted one of the audience members at Manchester’s Free Trade Hall. One bootleg of this legendary performance was incorrectly labeled “Royal Albert Hall.” The legally released recording is one of the most important documents of how popular music evolved in the 1960s.

American singer-songwriter Cat Power, at home somewhere between indie and alternative country music, performed “The 1966 Royal Albert Hall Concert” in its entirety last year at the iconic London venue and released it as a live album. Yesterday, she brought the program to Vienna. Although the lyrics remain unchanged, as do most of the arrangements, Cat Power has made the songs her own through her own (and un-mimicked) way of singing.

People are not only used to electric guitars and loud drums, i.e. rock and roll, but they actually associate it with pop concerts. That's why the acoustic part of the “Royal Albert Hall Concert” today sounds more extreme than the electric part: in the concert hall, I listened very intensely like Cat Power, dimly lit only by six studio lights in the background (similar to the way Dylan last lit his stage), he said “It's All Over Now, Baby Blue” and “Mr. Tambourine Man” were interpreted in a dignified manner – no chatter, no cell phone photography, no coming and going to the concession stand.

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According to her own statements, she was suffering from jet lag and her acoustics (perfect in fact) were only prevented by the heroine herself from fully immersing herself in the performance by waving her arms enthusiastically at the sound technicians and commentators. But with their bluesy version of “Ballad Of A Thin Man” and the powerful “Like A Rolling Stone” in the “noisy” part, that has long been forgotten. Dylan’s songs are certainly not museum pieces, but they have their validity here and now, as Cat Power confirmed with her performance. And you can certainly understand the shock that many felt in 1966 when the band began with “Tell Me Mama,” after the intimate part.

(By Wolfgang Hauptmann/APA)