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Complete Unknowns Make Dylan New

Tue, 09/03/2019 - 15:04
Michael Weiskopf, center, gathers no moss as he continues to record, tour, and even write a book over the past few years. He brings his band the Complete Unknowns back to Bay Street Theater on Saturday.

Like a rolling stone, Michael Weiskopf has been on the move. Last year, he recorded a fourth solo release, “Lost in Amerika: 9 1/2 Stories,” at Hit Factory Criteria Studios in Miami, where classic tracks including “Layla,” “I Got You (I Feel Good),” “Young, Gifted and Black,” and “Hotel California” were born. He has recently lived in Portugal, performed in Slovenia’s two largest cities and elsewhere in Europe, and written a book.

Mr. Weiskopf and the band he leads, the Complete Unknowns, will return to Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor on Saturday at 8 p.m. The group performs the music of Bob Dylan, and, like Mr. Dylan and his music, the Complete Unknowns are an ever-evolving entity that interprets and re-interprets the artist’s oeuvre, often basing a performance on a group of albums and the themes they explore. In 2016, the band delivered a thematic performance at Guild Hall focusing on the Bob Johnston-produced mid-1960s albums “Bringing It All Back Home,” “Highway 61 Revisited,” and “Blonde on Blonde.”

This year, he said, the Complete Unknowns have been playing songs from Mr. Dylan’s fertile and acclaimed mid-1970s period, when he recorded the albums “Planet Waves,” “Blood on the Tracks,” and “Desire.” The three albums, released from 1974 to 1976, include some of Mr. Dylan’s most plaintive songs. Though he has denied that songs on “Blood on the Tracks” reflect his estrangement from his then-wife, that collection is at turns starkly personal, playful, wry, and wistful, and includes “Tangled Up in Blue,” “Simple Twist of Fate,” “Idiot Wind,” and “Shelter From the Storm.”

“Planet Waves,” from 1974, includes Mr. Dylan’s lovely “Forever Young,” originally written for his children. Many tracks from “Desire” were written in East Hampton, during a period Mr. Dylan recounts in his book, “Chronicles: Volume 1.”

“There are so many great songs to play,” Mr. Weiskopf said last week, “that we never run out of material. We throw in other stuff that people want to hear,” he added, “mixing it up, not playing all the same songs. We want to keep it interesting for the band and the people that come to see us.”

He last saw Mr. Dylan perform in November, he said, “and he has rewritten everything again: ‘Don’t Think Twice’ into a ballad, and ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ into a three-quarter-time  ballad — it was horrible, but it’s always interesting. We try to follow that spirit, instead of playing it like the record. When it comes to Dylan, you’re allowed to take liberties and change the arrangement.”

Mr. Weiskopf remains a caustic critic of American political leadership. One track on “Lost in Amerika,” called “It Don’t Bother Me,” was written three days after President Trump’s election. “Much Worse Than It Sounds” was written a year to the day after the election, “when we still had some hope that [the special counsel Robert] Mueller was going to bring this nightmare to an end.”

“Opioids,” another track, was written for a friend whose son suffered an overdose. The album, which makes use of his band’s guitarists, Randolph Hudson III and Klyph Black, conccludes with a verse of “Chimes of Freedom,” a possible reflection on the assassination of President Kennedy from Mr. Dylan’s 1964 album “Another Side of Bob Dylan.”

“I thought it was the appropriate mood,” Mr. Weiskopf said. “Every song paints a picture — it’s a story album. Anybody that likes what I do, this is the best work I’ve ever done. It’s an old-fashioned record, it’s got a theme.”

In addition to Mr. Hudson and Mr. Black, the core of the Complete Unknowns remains Mr. Weiskopf on lead vocals, guitar, and harmonica, Stuart Sherman on keyboards, Taka Shimizu on bass, Alex Sarkis and/or James Benard on drums and percussion, and Lauren Matzen on vocals. Damian Sanchez, who plays saxophone and clarinet on “Lost in Amerika,” joins some performances, as does Martha Mooke on viola.

Tickets to Saturday’s show are $25 and $35.

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