Here’s something you don’t see so often: Bob Dylan shuffling a dance and cracking a smile.
Many fans wondered what he was doing on the lineup of London’s Feis Festival, celebrating mainly Irish music, held in the suburban Finsbury Park. Fortunately, Dylan had left his notoriously grouchy self at his nearby London bolt-hole. The crowd was soon dancing around in the sludgy mud and their rubber boots and everyone dropped the “Robert O’Zimmerman” jibes.
The 70-year-old got into the spirit of things. His set, mixing folk-based greatest hits and electric blues, fitted the bill perfectly. The singer-songwriter visibly enjoyed himself, shifting between keyboard, harmonica and guitar and grinning during “Ballad of a Thin Man.”
Dylan’s black-suited band kept up a chugging momentum. “Like a Rolling Stone” inspired a mass sing-along. The star himself, in a white shirt and cowboy hat, managed to make some melodies indecipherable: “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” initially failed to spark mass recognition in the crowd.
There were no such problems for Van Morrison, who played the sunset slot last night. Dressed in black, with a golden monogrammed microphone stand, the Northern Irish songwriter opted for a smooth jazz sound. He kept a fearsomely tight grip on his horn-rich group’s immaculate performance.
Hits like “Brown Eyed Girl” “Moondance” and “In the Garden” flowed. A rendition of the traditional “Star of the County Down” led the way for a joyous stomp through “Gloria.”
Elsewhere, folk singer Christy Moore was the darling of Saturday’s crowd. His acoustic guitar was softened by the lyrical electric contributions from Declan Sinnott.
There was a fair amount of plodding rock, thanks to U.S. band Gaslight Anthem and others. The Cranberries remained inspiration free. Eddi Reader brought a personal twist to a selection of classics. Camille O’Sullivan was endearingly demented.
O Emperor played a set of stylistically diverse, pleasingly melodramatic comfort rock on the tiny Third Stage, tucked like an afterthought behind a row of burger vans.
The young Waterford quintet can be highly recommended. Bigger stages must surely beckon for next year.
What the Stars Mean: **** Excellent *** Good ** Average * Poor (No stars) Worthless
(Robert Heller is a music critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
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