Disclaimer, or Apology, depending:
I’ll try to minimize them.
When we were first offered a night at a small venue in a nearby city to see The Wallflowers, we were immediately beset with feelings of blah.
To be honest, this neutral-to-unenthusiastic response was in part due to the previous concert we’d attended on recommendation of a close and dear friend:
Y&T was certainly not on our radar as a live act we couldn’t miss: I had a passing acquaintance with them as a rock act who had middling success decades ago.
Although further investigation has them selling multiple millions of albums during their career, which is a lot better than middling.
Our friend remains a big fan to this day. And it was his birthday, so we went happily. My wife (K) barely knew the band existed before. That concert was highly enjoyable, according to our friend.
But since K and I weren’t versed in Y&T, for us it was a series of hard rock tunes difficult to parse. We’d done our homework; we listened to Y&T’s greatest hits playlist a time and a half.
They may have performed some of those greatest hits right in front of us.
We couldn’t tell.
Our only clue that one song ended and another began was when the lead singer addressed the crowd. It wasn’t Y&T’s fault: it was our lack of foreknowledge. Also, the venue’s sound was muddy. Still, my wife and I have not listened to a Y&T song on purpose since. I suspect we never will.
However, we’re aware of The Wallflowers.
They had hits we remembered, played on car radios and home stereos and portable CD players with CDs ripped illegally from sites based in exotically-named locales during the ‘90s.
These hits were all from one album. A red flag.
OTOH, the album was packed with multiple hits, catchy as hell. And he was Bob Dylan’s son, for god’s sake. It was at least a chance to see a legend’s DNA in human form, singing. I asked K, not a Dylan aficionado other than enjoying ONJ’s ‘If Not For You,’ if she’d see Bob at this late date. She said she would. But I suspect she said yes simply from an historical perspective.
It’s like reading Shakespeare for her: good for you, but most of these culturally important vegetables are not tasty.
As for me, I’d go in a heartbeat.
The hall was a reconfigured single-screen movie theater, with a balcony. Maybe 300 souls in total. We arrived early and staked out a position at the left side of the balcony that afforded us a clear view. We were maybe 50 or 75 feet from front center stage.
The crowd was predominantly middle-aged. I don’t think I saw anyone younger than 40, mainly couples out on a Friday night. We were two married couples ourselves and also on the far side of middle-aged, so we fit the demographic exactly. This was not a crowd prepared to high-decibel their way through the entire set.
We’d surely be respectfully grateful throughout, our applause longer as opposed to louder.
An aside: a decade ago my son and I saw Green Day at the Greek in Berkeley.
It was essentially a home game for the band, so Billie Joe and boys were feted without restraint. My son, 14 at the time and a huge fan, insisted on watching from the mosh pit.
My personal memories:
Armstrong was a mesmerizing front man, even more so up close: every time the crowd around us raised their arms in amazement and supplication, the stink of body odor was overwhelming, nearly visible, like heat rising from the desert floor;
During one of the rushes toward the edge of the stage by the entire pit mob, my son was bodily carried away from me in the surge and I lost sight of him, triggering a parental panic since unequaled.
I was fairly certain tonight would be different. At least my son wasn’t here.
The opening act, a Neil Young cover band, did a credible ‘Southern Man’
Young doesn’t live far from here, and we joked about him making a surprise appearance that would have bent reality; alas, no.
We waited for the headliner. Our balcony was the bigger and wider one.
The nearby bar did good business in cosmopolitans and local independent brewery IPAs. There were even several tables against the back wall where folks who paid $80 bucks a pop to attend a live concert watched the performance on a widescreen CCTV.
One particular patron sat there alone for the entire show, a morose look on his face. I hoped he’d been comped the ticket, or was bored member of the crew. Admittedly, since we didn’t spring for seats, the tables looked more and more inviting as creaky joints started to complain. I admit with little shame we experienced the final bits of the show from said tables and, more importantly, chairs.
The Wallflowers came onstage.
A six-piece: guitarist, muscular keyboardist, drummer, bassist, a instrumental polymath who played the pedal steel and other obscure stringed contrivances, and Jakob.
Dark-haired, sharp-featured, bright eyes that scanned the room with intent.
I never thought he looked much like his old man. An acoustic guitar strapped to his back. He soaked up the anticipatory applause, then broke into the first song at the drummer’s count. I didn’t recognize it.
Crap. I was a poser: Y&T all over again.
Subsequently, I found out it was ‘Move the River’ from their latest release, Exit Wounds, from 2021. 2021? Don’t they know I was listening to ‘abcdefu’ and ‘Real Life Sux’ by this time? Several other Exit Wounds cuts followed, to my continued bemusement. I thought of the famous opening line of Greil Marcus’ review of Dylan pere’s Self Portrait album:
I congratulated myself on my cleverness at making this obscure reference.
To my mind, there are five significant songs in the Wallflower oeuvre:
- Sixth Avenue Heartache
- Three Marlenas
- The Difference
- One Headlight
- and God Don’t Make Lonely Girls
All from that album, Bringing Down the Horse.
If you want to throw in their remake of ‘Heroes’ from the Godzilla soundtrack (??), that’s fine. These were the ones they had to play, the ones we paid to see, the ones that made The Wallflowers The Wallflowers. To do otherwise verged on professional malfeasance.
Song 5 was ‘Sixth Avenue Heartache.’ Instant sing-along stuff.
‘The same black line that’s drawn on you / Is drawn on me’ echoed throughout. A restrained guitar solo. Jakob pointing randomly and happily at the crowd as he croaked through in the family style.
- Fans near the stage.
- Swaying and cheering.
- Heavy applause.
- Now we’re rolling!
Give us another hit: and you’ve got us till the end! And…
We got ‘Roots and Wings,’ which hit no. 6 on the US AAA chart. The crowd grew restless again. Applause went from enthusiastic to polite. We were not US AAA chart fans, apparently, even though we were adults, knew of alternative music, and listened to airplay.
Then, a cover of ‘Into the Mystic,’ which, fine, I guess. I could sing this one. It’s not Van the Man in his prime crooning it, but yeah, nice. It’s a soundtrack cut, too.
They’d also recorded covers of ‘I Started a Joke’ and ‘I’m Looking Through You’ for the movies. They could have included these in the set list and kept up the energy.
So, ignorant of and uninterested in the music for the time being, I took to observing Dylan.
He had an elfin quality onstage, flitting lightly across the floorboards, turning his back to the crowd to jape with the drummer or bassist.
I’m pretty sure he was the shortest member of his band, and the skinniest.
He made some jokes about Teslas that didn’t land exactly, as the Tesla question in this quarter has morphed from ‘Electric cars? Balderdash!’ to ‘TESLA DRIVERS HAVE NO UNDERSTANDING OF THE UNWRITTEN RULES OF THE ROAD!’
He opened his arms expansively like a lawyer grandstanding in front of a jury. He gestured at random times toward random people in the crowd. A maybe not-so-random woman was summoned to stage front mid-concert, and she and Dylan traded pleasantries. She spent the remainder of the show there, moving sinuously, arms waving above her head like kelp in the surf.
Song 15 (song 15!) was, finally…
‘One Headlight.’ We sang along full-throatedly, absolutely sure this whole endeavor was about to take off. Instead, they exited, stage left.
Another chance to extend momentum doused.
Stirring anxiously, we waited for the encore. I told K it’s got to be:
This was Show Business 101.
This is what it says in the handbook.
The band returned, grinning and picking up the tools of their trade. We waited, clapping expectantly. And The Wallflowers swung into… ‘Wild World.’
Again, much like with the Morrison cover, Cat Stevens’ tunes are perfectly cromulent to my ears. The man can write a tune.
But this was the encore opener! Time to let loose! Time to play one of your signature songs! Time to, as they say, kick out the familiar jams. Not the time to ask a primed crowd to dial it back and introspect. I was losing faith. I gave the headliner one more shot to right their ship.
It was at this point that fate dealt us a hand we could not fold.
October 19th happened to be the birthday of the late and lamented Tom Petty. Jakob was a fan, and probably knew him quite well, if not through normal industry channels, then via Pops and The Traveling Wilburys.
A tribute was needed. You’ll take ‘Even the Losers’ and you’ll like it. We did.
You’ll also enjoy ‘Refugee.’ We enjoyed it. And now, we’ll do ‘American Girl.’ It was at this point I thought to myself, “wait a sec…” Are we listening to The Wallflowers, or PettyBreakers?
Southern Accents? Free Fallin? Damned Torpedoes? Or, last but not least, and definitely most deliciously for our current discussion, The Wildflowers?
All solid TP and the HBs cover bands, but not what we expected nor were promised. By the time Dylan, et al., graced us with ‘The Difference,’ I’d tapped out.
Somewhere, there was failure,: either by me, as a poor and unlearned Wallflowers fan, or the band, who didn’t fully recognize that they were at least adjacent to being a legacy act, and legacy acts sell tickets based on performing the hits. All the hits.
See The Wallflowers when they come to your town.
Even though they’re at least on their fourth generation of every band member, sans you-know-who.
They put on a good show.
You’ll hear some (a few?) hits. You’ll hear some deep cuts. You’ll even hear some covers.
You’ll also come to realize that the group is going through something of a late-career crisis. This could be worth watching in and of itself. Or not. Either way, they won’t be quite what you expect.
If you’re not looking to be surprised, if Jakob Dylan’s idiosyncrasies as he navigates his sixth decade aren’t to your tastes, wait a month or two:
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