Bob Dylan rarely does things the regular way. In his first performance since 2019, a pre-taped selection of songs titled Shadow Kingdom, the enigmatic artist offered viewers not only 12 of his most poignant songs (reimagined, of course), but a cinematic, film noir experience that allowed fans to get up close and personal with a man well known for his strict “no photos” policies at concerts.
Directed by Alma Har’el, Shadow Kingdom starred Dylan as the centerpiece of a small house band in a prohibition-style speakeasy, surrounded by men and women with smoldering cigarettes and neat drinks. Accompanied by his masked bandmates — Alex Burke, Janie Cowen, Joshua Crumbly, Shahzad Ismaily and Buck Meek — Dylan, though dressed plainly throughout the show in a few different suit jackets, commanded the most attention with his wide stance and direct eye contact with the camera. The dimly lit room, courtesy of cinematographer Lol Crawley, cast mysterious shadows across the musicians’ faces, including Dylan’s, and explained the performance’s title.
Dylan seldomly announces his next song during his usual live performances — it is often up to the listener to decipher which tune he has cleverly reworked into something brand new — but Shadow Kingdom took the guesswork out, showing the title of each song before its performance. Billed as “The Early Songs of Bob Dylan,” the concert fulfilled its promise with standards like the opening “When I Paint My Masterpiece,” “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue,” “Queen Jane Approximately” and “Tom Thumb’s Blues,” but also included a later gem, “What Was It You Wanted,” from Dylan’s 1989 album, Oh Mercy. Dylan transitioned between the mic — singing in a voice that sounded gruff yet sturdy — his guitar and harmonica, but of course, no applause filled the short silence between numbers. The set list did not include any songs from his most recent album, 2020’s Rough and Rowdy Ways, despite its critical acclaim.
Perhaps this is how Dylan wishes most of his concerts could go, with just a small crowd of people and an intimate band in an undisclosed location. While it’s unclear at the moment when he will return to live touring in the wake of the pandemic, in the newfound era of the livestream, it was only fitting that Dylan would take things to the most inventive level he could with Shadow Kingdom.
Bob Dylan, Shadow Kingdom Set List
1. “When I Paint My Masterpiece”
2. “Most Likely You Go Your Way and I’ll Go Mine”
3. “Queen Jane Approximately”
4. “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight”
5. “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues”
6. “Tombstone Blues”
7. “To Be Alone With You”
8. “What Was It You Wanted”
9. “Forever Young”
10. “Pledging My Time”
11. “Watching the River Flow”
12. “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”
Bob Dylan Albums Ranked
Not so surprisingly, Bob Dylan’s recording career has lots of ups and downs. That’s bound to happen when you stick around for more than 50 years and release three dozen albums during that time.