Video View: A meeting of two generations
By Gerald Martinez and Joan Lau
New Straits Times — Sunday, April 12, 1987
BOB DYLAN with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers — Hard To Handle
Last year, Bob Dylan teamed up with the Heartbreakers for a tour of the U.S., as well as Australia and New Zealand. This is a video of one of their live concerts.
It’s a meeting of two generations of American musicians. Tom Petty is about 30 years old and grew up listening to Dylan. Indeed, Petty’s vocals and music owe quite a lot to the singer/songwriter.
Dylan is now 46, and still sings in that uniquely nasal snarl of his.
He covers material from his early days right down to some of his latest tracks in this video.
With Petty, Mike Campbell, and Dylan, playing guitars, the sound is thick and full.
In addition, three black women, calling themselves the Queens of Rhythms, add rich vocal harmonies.
The Heartbreakers play very much as his backing band, content not to overshadow Dylan. Indeed, Petty wears a top hat throughout the show, hiding his distinctive blond locks, as if he did not want any attention drawn to himself.
But their tight and powerful playing, honed after years of being together, makes the music really punchy.
From their energetic playing, it is clear they are really enthusiastic about backing the master. And who can blame them? After all, Dylan is a legend in his own lifetime.
Believe it or not, he has been on the musical scene for over a quarter of a century.
Dylan released his first album in 1961, which sold only 5,000 copies. But his next album, The Freewheeling Bob Dylan, made his name. It was filled with protest songs that dealt with social issues. Other songs were fiercely anti-war, and his clever and caustic lyrics captured the public’s imagination.
In this concert, Dylan shows this side of his character peforming It’s Alright Ma, (I’m Only Bleeding), a virulent comment on politics and politicians. He performs it solo, strumming his acoustic guitar with frenetic energy, and spitting out the words viciously.
But there are other faces of Dylan too, and he is capable of writing moving love songs as well. Here he peforms Just Like A Woman, one of the best performances in this set.
The Heartbreakers play sympathetically with Petty adding some sweet fills on lead guitar. And Benmont Tench on organ enriches the sound with some classically influenced lines.
Girl From The North Country, a tune loosely based on the folk tune Scarborough Fair, also gets an airing and Dylan’s rough vocals give the song an affecting edge.
But he is capable of fire and spite, as he demonstrates in Like A Rolling Stone, one of his classic compositions. The Heartbreakers really rock out on this one.
In 1979 or so, Dylan added new dimension to his compositions when he became a born-again Christian.
Many songs in this set reflect his newfound beliefs. In fact, the show opens with Did They Know, a song directed at non-believers. He performs a number of gospel-influenced songs too.
The show closes with another of his classic hits, Knocking On Heaven’s Door. This song is given an extended treatment, with a long instrumental introducing it.
Dylan plays snatches of the tune on his harmonica before launching into the song proper. It is a tune which the audience know as well as Dylan, and they will all join in.
With the Queens of Rhythms ading their churchy harmonies, the song takes on a hymnal air — perhaps the effect Dylan was aiming for. All in all, this tape is a great representation of Dylan, of the way he is now.