A cable pay-per-view extravaganza that focuses on musical substance, not flash? A pricey pop television event aimed more at informed Musician magazine subscribers than perusers of, say, Sassy or Vanity Fair? This was the honorable intent informing “Guitar Legends,” a three-hour edit of five nights’ worth of live performances held over the last week in Seville, Spain, telecast Saturday night.
There were big names involved--from Bob Dylan (hardly legendary as a guitarist) to ex-Pink Floydian Roger Waters (who, contrary to the promotional material, ain’t even a guitarist, period).
Still, it was the figures of lesser marquee value and true fretboard legend who provided the most satisfying moments, many of them non-vocal numbers--like electric pioneer Les Paul picking an exemplary “Brazil,” Larry Coryell and bassist Stanley Clarke doing a heated jazz “School Days,” or John McLaughlin and Spain’s Paco De Lucia’s acoustic flamenco.
Star turns were mixed: Dylan gave the most uninvolved, walking-dead reading of “All Along the Watchtower” imaginable, then recovered for an honest rendition of the John Hiatt-Ry Cooder tune “Along the Borderline"--perhaps not wanting to do someone else’s lyric the disservice he did his own--then was joined by Keith Richards on “Shake, Rattle and Roll,” retreating back into apathy.
Also of interest were Robbie Robertson, singing lead on the Band’s “The Weight” for the first time in public, along with pianist Bruce Hornsby; disappointing duets between Richard Thompson and Roger McGuinn; and the expected fireworks from bluesmen Robert Cray, Albert Collins, B. B. King and Bo Diddley, alone and in tandem.