On the occasion of the footage being re-issued, this time in HD DVD & Blu-ray and with various extras - and almost 22 years after the retrospective event itself, here's the review I wrote for the British Daily Telegraph straight after the gig. I could wish the comments still applied about Bob's unwillingness to promote his own latest album in concert or see himself as part of the entertainment industry - but things have changed (and not only those things):

Columbia Records Celebrates the Music of Bob Dylan at Madison Square Garden on Friday night  -  with a huge roster of stars  -  must have puzzled Dylan more than the rest of those present.
For four and a half years now his Never-Ending Tour has criss-crossed the back roads of America  -  with the odd diversion into Europe, South America and Hawaii  -  with Dylan cycling to work, playing small halls with his anonymous band, refusing to admit press photographers and avoiding any notion of promoting his latest releases. Most of the time, his record company doesn't even know where he is.
             In bizarre contrast, it was suddenly decreed from on corporate high that there was to be a Live Aid-Lennon Memorial type megabash tocelebrate" his 30th anniversary on the Columbia label. That he has not always been on Columbia, that they first signed him thirty-one  years ago, and that the celebration has come seven months too late to mark the anniversary of his first release  -  none of this mattered either to the media machine selling the event to TV around the world or to the fans at the 4-hour-plus show.
             Many stars rumoured to be coming did not materialise  -  Paul Simon, Elvis Costello, Van Morrison  -  and there were conspicuous absentees  -  Joan Baez, Robbie Robertson  -  but there were plenty left, one act following another in impressively quick succession, serviced by roadies working like a pit-stop team and a house-band led by ex-Dylan guitarist G.E.Smith.
             John Mellencamp, loudly unexciting, Johnny Winter, louder and worse, Kris Kristofferson crunching through I'll Be Your Baby Tonight' and the record-company president giving a speech  -  these were the lowlights.
             There were others whose sheer presence contributed authority and excitement: Johnny Cash, the man in the short black coat, and surprise guest Stevie Wonder.
             The younger acts were a very mixed bunch. Sophie B. Hawkins proved a pale pretender to Laura Nyro territory. Eddie Vedder from Pearl Jam gave a fine folkclub performance of Masters of War' successfully transposed to the 20,000-seater venue, but the song sounded dated and pious. Mary-Chapin Carpenter, Shawn Colvin and Roseanne Cash were merely competent on You Ain't Goin' Nowhere', while Tracy Chapman managed an odd mix of the powerful and cosy on an anthem with no obvious current applicability, The Times They Are A-Changin''.
             Where were the real  young interpreters? Where were Jason & The Scorchers and The Poster Children? The one comparative newcomer whose presence did create real electricity was Sinead O'Connor  -  and it was solely her presence that did it. Large parts of the crowd booed, laughably unmindful of the events of 1966 and with real hatred seething through the hall. It was a repulsive indictment of the mob mentality of stadium-rock events.
             Neil Young took over with a customarily robust performance. Georges Harrison and Thorogood, Chrissie Hynde, The Band, The O'Jays, Tom Petty, Ron Wood and Roger McGuinn all acquitted themselves well enough, but the heavyweight honours went to Lou Reed, choosing, to his credit, an obscure early-80s song, Foot Of Pride', which was fierce and committed; the Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem with a gloriously unrockist, moving When The Ship Comes In', Clapton with a real reoccupation of Don't Think Twice, It's Alright' as a churning blues; and Charles Dickens lookalike Willie Nelson, who was one of the oldest present and chose the newest song, 1989's great, and savagely apt, What Was It You Wanted?'
             Then, at the end, after the ballyhoo, on came Bob Dylan  -  and with the feeling and deft intelligence that created this great sweep of musics and poetry, he chose Song To Woody', stressing that he  sees himself in a line of figures like Guthrie and Leadbelly: people who took their own roads and didn't serve the entertainment industry.
             A couple more songs  -  a solo It's Alright, Ma' and a genuinely celebratory My Back Pages' shared with an inner circle of compadres, an inevitably rabble-rousing finale with everyone Knockin' On Heaven's Door' and in the final end a solo Girl of the North Country': a poignant choice and a subdued performance no more attuned to the demands of the big media event than Dylan ever is.
             And next month he releases a new album. It doesn't have one Bob Dylan song on it, it's his first solo acoustic product" in 28 years, and it's a mixture of folk ballads and pre-war country blues, with a Stephen Foster song and a nursery rhyme thrown in. Almost no-one who was at Madison Square Garden last Friday night will buy it, and Bob will be back in the small halls.


© Michael Gray, 1992.


  1. Great piece. It brings the event back very clearly. I'm not a fan of hers generally but Sinead O'Connor was inspirational that night.

  2. You nailed this one, sir. Bob and the 'stars' of the 'entertainment' world should never mix. It was a pretty dire affair with little that demands a re-release other than Lou Reed's contribution. Things have changed, a bit.

  3. Great stuff, Michael, you really nailed it. I didn't read this at the time, but it's still as valid as it was, even if things have changed. And for the worse, as they are wont to of late. Antonio J. Iriarte

  4. Rambling Gambling Gordon

    Someone who showed on the night that he still ‘didn’t serve the entertainment industry’, and whose ‘subdued performance (was) no more attuned to the demands of the big media event than Dylan ever is’.

    That spirit is still alive, but in the intervening years it has shrunk. Indeed it’s evidence of how much we’ve become accustomed to the falling-off that the egregious, what-on-earth-could-he-possibly-be-thinking Chrysler ad ultimately didn’t provoke that much of a fuss.

  5. You are entitled to your views, even if most people don't agree with you. It was a great concert. Except for a few dead spots it was awesome. One of the top 5 concerts of all time.

  6. Elmer Gantry12 March, 2014

    Some great early pictures of Bob and others like Dave Van Ronk and Paul Clayton here:
    For my money, Lou Reed blew virtually everyone else away at the 30th Anniversary concert...

  7. Michael

    The perils of being a published writer...

    "It would be infinitely healthier for today's Bob Dylan voice to be singing today's Bob Dylan's songs. That's what artists do".