Margaret Court Arena, Melbourne, Australia, August 14, 2018
Speakeasy HQ, Melbourne, August 21, 2018
One song, two singers.
Two singers. One song.
One singer is 77 years old. Greying curly hair.
One singer is in his early 20s. Flowing ginger locks.
Both are sitting at a keyboard, backed by a four piece band.
One singer has played thousands and thousands of gigs, all over the world, for close to 60 years.
One singer is fronting a new band of fellow music students. His name is Oliver Northam and the band is The Elsewheres. (Disclaimer, folks: the drummer is my 21 year old son Reuben.)
One singer wrote Gotta Serve Somebody in the late 1970s. A gospel song. Opening track to Slow Train Coming, an uneven album. How many times has Dylan sung the song? Lord knows. (Well, a Bobhead or two out there will know.)
One singer is performing in a stadium in front of several thousand life-long fans. Despite the cavernous nature of the venue (an indoor tennis court), it’s an intimate show, due to the tasteful staging, the vastly experienced band, and the reverence of the audience.
One singer is performing on a tiny stage to about forty people in a venue that usually hosts contemporary vaudeville: burlesque dancers, comedians, magicians.
One venue is surrounded by tennis courts and sports stadiums.
One venue is in the thick of the city, the western end of Flinders St, near the notorious King St.
Bob Dylan performed the song about two-thirds into the night. Naturally, he re-arranged it, kick-starting it with the intro from the Peter Gunn theme and – seemingly – singing none of the verses from the version on Slow Train Coming. You may be a lawyer waiting for your day in court…Dylan has long re-configured the lyrics of his songs, but every verse? It keeps things fresh and it made me listen to the song more intently, that’s for sure.
Dylan didn’t introduce any of his songs that night. Oliver Northam said to his family, friends and colleagues: “If you like the blues and if you work in hospitality, you might like this song.” Then The Elsewheres launched into energetic up-tempo blues, punctuated by solos from the guitarist and then Northam on keyboards. A fresh take on an old song. Not surprisingly, Northam didn’t mess with the lyrics. You may be an ambassador to England or France…
The song was the only non-original in the 40 minute set. Northam’s own songs stood up well in such exalted company. He’s a talent worth tracking.
On our way to the Speakeasy gig, with Reuben’s drum kit in the back of our car, my son picked up one of the handful of cassettes on the dashboard, poked it into the 20 year old tape player. Dylan. First album. Just two original songs in the 13 tracks, Talkin’ New York and Song To Woody.
Reuben recognises Baby Let Me Follow You Down. He laughs at some hillbilly yodelling. Freight Train Blues. “When was this made?” he asks. “About 1962,” I say. I don’t need to add: “When he was about your age.”
I have written elsewhere on this site of Reuben’s taste in music, of how he’s attuned to contemporary music (Courtney Barnett, Hiatus Kaiyote…), of how he has ears for the past too (George Harrison).
But I don’t think he knew of Gotta Serve Somebody until initial rehearsals with the band. He texted me from one rehearsal: “Dad, do you know a Dylan song, Gotta Serve Somebody?”
I texted back: You may be an ambassador to England or France, you might like to gamble, you might like to dance…
One song. Two singers.
One song. Many singers.
Oliver Northam & The Elsewheres via Facebook.
Next gig: Sunday 9 September at Compass Pizza, 319 Lygon St East Brunswick at 5pm, free entry. Supports are Renn Picard and Gabrielle Parker.