After a year and a half of no live performances due to the coronavirus pandemic, Bob Dylan returned to a concert stage — virtually, that is — on Sunday.
His show, titled “Shadow Kingdom,” lasted for less than an hour and livestreamed for fans who paid $25 to watch through the platform Veeps.
The 80-year-old singer fronted a four-piece band in a club in a wooden hut, appearing in black-and-white and in several different outfits. He performed for audience members — who were really actors — who seemed to pay little attention and did not applaud him. He also did not speak to his virtual audience.
The man behind hits such as “Like a Rolling Stone” and “Tangled Up in Blue” last performed live in December 2019, with COVID-19 bringing an end to his “Never Ending” tour that began in 1988. For over three decades, Dylan played 3,066 shows, with 78 in 2019 and 84 in 2018. Dylan’s band has changed over the years, although his bass guitarist Tony Garnier has been with him since 1989.
Dylan’s band included accordion and upright bass players on many songs but did not feature a drummer, as the songs were more folk, blues and country than rock ‘n’ roll. Because of his wardrobe changes and the shifting placement of his band, viewers knew right away that the livestream did not run straight through — it was instead pre-recorded on a soundstage over several days.
Dylan opened with “When I Paint My Masterpiece,” which featured two women smoking and drinking at tables in front of him. The women also stared into the camera by Dylan in “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight.”
Dylan’s 13-song performance did not feature many of his best-known hits, instead focusing on songs from his early career. Perhaps his most well-known performance of the night was “Forever Young,” while other songs from the 1960s included “Tombstone Blues” and “Queen Jane Approximately.” Songs like “The Wicked Messenger” and “Pledging My Time” had not appeared in his sets for decades, and his most recent song was 1989’s “What Was It You Wanted” from his album “Oh Mercy.”
He rather abruptly ended with a strings-backed, melancholic version of “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” from his 1965 album “Bringing It All Back Home.”
The performance offered listeners a rare view into his past, as the setting and song list dug deep into his back catalog. Dylan has yet to announce any further appearances on Veeps or plans for getting back on the road.
Although Dylan hasn’t been performing live during the pandemic, he has been quite active throughout. On June 19, 2020, Dylan released his 39th studio album, “Rough and Rowdy Ways,” and in December 2020, he sold his entire six-decade catalog of songs to Universal Music Group in a deal thought to be the biggest of its kind. It was also announced that the biggest-ever retrospective of Dylan’s visual art on US soil will open in Florida this fall.