Dylan at Todai-ji

Here is a real video treat to commemorate Bob Dylan’s 72nd birthday today.

BD-GME-1BIn May 1994, Dylan performed at The Great Music Experience, a concert starring Japanese and international musicians staged in front of the 8th century Buddhist temple of Todai-ji, in Nara, Japan. Todai-ji is the headquarters of the Kegon (Huayen or Flower Garland) sect, and is also houses the world’s largest statue of a Buddha, a bronze figure of the Buddha Vairocana, also known as Daibutsu, which you can see in the video below.

The concert, put on in cooperation with UNESCO, was held over three nights (May 20-22) and, in addition to Dylan, featured performances from such people as Joni Mitchell, Jon Bon Jovi, Wayne Shorter, Richie Sambora, The Chieftains, INXS, Ry Cooder, and a host of Japanese singers and musicians.

Bob and Joni Mitchell in the finale.

Dylan’s performance marked the first time he was back by an orchestra, the Tokyo New Philharmonic orchestra, conducted by the late, great Michael Kamen. Bob does three songs, A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall, I Shall Be Released, and Ring Them Bells. The video clip also includes the all-star finale, a reprise of I Shall Be Released. Bob’s performance is stellar.

It was reported that when he walked offstage, Bob remarked that he had not sung so well for 15 years. Some months later, Q Magazine wrote, that  A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall was “no ordinary version…[he] really opens his lungs and heart and sings, like he’s not done for many a year…The only word for it majestic.”

Bob passes by Buddhist monks on his way offstage.
Bob passes by Buddhist monks on his way offstage.

You might also notice among Bob’s backing musicians, percussionists Jim Kelter and Ray Collins (of Elton John fame). The music was later mixed by Beatles’ producer, George Martin.

I had never seen this until a few days ago and I found it stunning. Majestic, indeed. Soaring. Beautiful arrangements and orchestrations, Bob singing at his nuanced and melodic best, and a truly magnificent setting. Watch for yourself.

Musicians said the collaborations, however rewarding, were difficult given the differences in musical backgrounds. “The only thing holding us together this evening is the shining Buddha,” said Michael Kamen. (New York Times)

Thanks to johannasvisions.com, Nothing but Dylan FaceBook page, and hollisbrown000.


3 thoughts on “Dylan at Todai-ji

  1. When I saw this in 1994 I remember feeling quite emotional,it felt like Bob had been ‘reborn’ after 3 or 4 years of dire live performances. Looking back now this was personally his midlife resurgence!
    Thanks Mr.Dylan, oh & a happy Birthday!

    1. Thanks for commenting, Martin. I quite agree with you about the 3 or 4 years of dire live performances. In 1992, I saw him several nights in a row at the Pantages Theater in Los Angeles. In contrast to the last time I had caught him in concert (1989), he looked bloated and there something that seemed off about both his singing (the phrasing) and the arrangements. I have heard that during this period he had developed a bad drinking problem, and there are some videos online where he appears to be drunk onstage. A year later in 1993 at the Hollywood Bowl with Santana, he seemed like a new man. Much leaner, and his performance much more on the mark. The explanation, from what I’ve heard, is that he sobered up.

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