FRANCESCO DE GREGORI – live at Nuova Teatro Carisport, Cesena, Italy 8th April 2016
This concert is part of the ‘Amore e Furto’ (Love and Theft) tour – a reference to the subtitle of the ‘De Gregori Canta Bob Dylan’ album released in 2015.
Needless to say, a fair proportion of the show is devoted to songs from this record which does such a valuable public service to Italians, particularly those who know Dylan only on the basis of a few of his ‘greatest hits’. The translations were obviously a labour of love and do an exemplary job of conveying the quirky poetry and socio-political thrust of Dylan’s language.
The varied choice of covers are drawn from the full range of Dylan’s career, evidence of the 65-year-old Italian singer-songwriter’s long-standing adoration of ‘His Bobness’. (Evidenced by the fact that he has also shared the bill with Dylan on a number of occasions).
De Gregori wisely steers clear of the more obvious selections so, for instance, there’s no ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ or ‘Knocking On Heaven’s Door’. Inspired versions of Desolation Row (Via Della Povertà) and Not Dark Yet (Non è Buoi Ancora) reflect the inspirations of beat language and the contemplations of mortality just as effectively.
Not surprisingly, these two tracks prove to be highlights in the live performance and the brilliant musicianship of the backing band make them more powerful than the recordings. Another less well known song – Sweetheart Like You, from 1983’s Infidels – is re-imagined so effectively as ‘Un Angioletto Come Te’ that, arguably,it even improves on the original.
In his concerts, Dylan is by now so secure in his ‘genius at work’ status that it places him largely above criticism. Unfortunately, this gives him full scope to blithely mangle and re-invent his own material with little or no regard to what the paying public want to hear. It is therefore something of a paradox that De Gregori’s renditions are more respectful to the songs than Dylan’s own live versions are.
The first half of the Cesena show is dedicated to Dylan, a set list comprising 8 of the 11 tracks from ‘Amore e Furto’. After a short break De Gregori plays a selection of his own songs and, perhaps inevitably, these pale in comparison.
De Gregori belongs to a fading (and, sadly, dying) breed of singer songwriters old enough to remember how Dylan’s ‘ghosts of electricity’ inspired a generation and proved that earnest folk songs and blazing Rock’N’Roll were not mutually exclusive categories. I admit that my perspective of the Italian institution would almost certainly been different if, like the majority of the audience. I had grown up listening to his songs.
Songs like ‘La Storia’ and ‘La Donna Cannone’ are only ones that for me that come close to matching the quality of the first half. The high standards of musicianship means that there was always something to appreciate but the sense of anti-climax is exacerbated by De Gregori’s wooden and largely uncharismatic stage presence.
Old favorites such as ‘Generale’ and ‘Rimmel’ clearly do the job of pleasing his fan base. The level of appreciation gauged by the amount of mobile phones that lit up as the songs began.
The show closes with Fiorellino #12&35, an obvious homage to Rainy Day Women, Dylan’s boozy opening track from Blonde On Blonde. We therefore end being symbolically transported back to the golden period of the mid-1960s.
De Gregori would have been 15 years old when Blonde On Blonde was released. Much has changed in the musical and political landscape since then, but this show is a reminder that great songs and singers never really go out of style.