What We See in the Shadows

Like many Bob Dylan fans I tuned in at 5pm EST on Sunday July 18th to watch Dylan’s first foray into livestreaming. The title Shadow Kingdom offered no clues to what we would be watching, but a couple weeks ago a promotional trailer came out that included the text “The Early Songs of Bob Dylan.” Yet even that clue was vague, since the accompanying video was from the song “Watching the River Flow,” not what I’d consider an early song. 

There was a ten-minute countdown clock that began right at 5, offering a setting similar to a concert where you’re in your seat at the prescribed time only to then wait some more. But as one reviewer mentioned, the clock also served as a device for viewers to check their audio and screen settings without missing any of the program. I’ve since rewatched sections of the show several times, a benefit of the livestream platform that you might as well take advantage of!

Most of the initial reviews I’ve read all say the same thing and ask the same questions, but if you want a solid review of the program, I recommend this review in Variety. As the writer explains, it’s clear that these songs were pre-recorded rather than played live. I’m not an expert at detecting miming or lip synching, so I can’t say that’s what all the players were doing, but really, who cares? It was never advertised as a true live stream, although the first time I watched it I treated it as such. I took notes just like I would at a concert, and texted back and forth with my dad as each new song began. I even started to feel setlist fatigue after the third song, as if I knew that we weren’t going to get anything super rare or unique (there were several songs, though, that Dylan rarely plays live, at least not recently, such as Wicked Messenger, Pledging My Time, and What Was It You Wanted). But the new arrangement of Tombstone Blues and the new lyrics in To Be Alone With You caught my attention, with the former reminding me of a spoken word performance instead of a song.

Two songs that I needed to rewatch were Wicked Messenger and Watching the River Flow. With the latter, I thought for sure that I saw a cameo by Tony Garnier, Dylan’s long-time bass player, in the audience. The treatment for this song featured the audience members on their feet and dancing, but after watching it two more times through, I did not see anyone who looked like Tony. Perhaps I just wanted to see a familiar face among the actors and masked band members, or maybe one of the men wore a hat similar to the style Tony wears. With all the shadow play, what you see in one viewing may not be as noticeable in the second.

During Wicked Messenger, though, I am convinced that Charlie Sexton is the person playing the lead guitar during several spotlight moments, as you can see below, when the guitarist overtakes Dylan. Charlie’s been in Dylan’s band for almost as long as I’ve been going to concerts, and since he’s usually the youngest and/or best-looking member of the band, I’ve spent a lot of time watching him play over the years. As soon as I saw those hands, I thought to myself, those are Charlie’s hands. He’s not listed in the program credits, but I think it’s meant to be that way. Without knowing the details, I’d guess that Dylan and Charlie have a complex relationship—Dylan wants him in his band, and when Charlie tried to leave in 2013, he didn’t stay away long. In any case, until someone proves me wrong, I stand by this belief.

Is that you, Charlie?
l-r: Donnie Herron, Charlie Sexton, Bob Dylan, Azkena Rock Festival 2010, Mendizabala, Vitoria-Gasteiz.
Photo by Dena Flows.

A couple more thoughts: I’d love to see this program in a theater with other fans, since it has that 1940s black-and-white movie feel to it. One review noted that it is a great document of Dylan in his later years, and even if it doesn’t get an official release by Sony, I think it will be a film that is shown in the future. If you want to see it now, though, head on over to Veeps.com and buy a ticket quick! I’m not sure when ticket sales end, but it will be available for viewing until Sunday, July 25th.

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