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The Same Black Line…? October 2023 Concert Review: The Wallflowers

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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.

“Harrumph. Judgmental, much?

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.

Great Moments in Copyright Violation:
Jayden posts his final WaukeganPirateMusic.com illegal upload – seconds before the big FBI Raid Of ’93.

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.

“Resistance is futile.”

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…

Nope.

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.

They didn’t. 

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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Virgindog
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Virgindog
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November 16, 2023 8:38 am

A Green Day aside: When they first hit it big with Dookie, I took my son to see them. He was 8. The only concerts he’d been to were folk and blues festivals we’d gone to. You know, family friendly stuff.

The Green Day show was in a hockey arena and we were in the seats on one side. Everyone was standing from the get go, so I had him stand on the arm of my chair and held him so he wouldn’t fall over as he bopped along. About the third song in, he turned to me and said, “Dad, this is the first concert I’ve been to that actually rocks.”

Nice review, stobgopper, it tells us everything we need to know before buying Wallflower tickets. I was never a big fan and never even considered seeing them, and this tells me I probably won’t unless someone gives me free tickets, too!

Phylum of Alexandria
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November 16, 2023 9:50 am

They’re living up to their name at least. Their decision not to bill themselves as “The Barn Burnin Party Stompers” continues to pay dividends…

lovethisconcept
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November 16, 2023 10:36 am

I did see a great Jakob Dylan quote in an interview. When asked, “Does it bother you to be compared to your father as a songwriter?” His reply (roughly), “It would bother me more if every songwriter in the country wasn’t compared to Bob Dylan.”

I believe that Jakob showed up in an article that I wrote last summer about the progeny of famous musicians who are also in the music business. He was one of the more successful, in that he had a few hits, which is more than most. Not the least bit tempted to see him live, but he seems like a perfectly nice guy who understands his place in the family.

Pauly Steyreen
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November 16, 2023 12:36 pm

Dude is probably SOOOO over playing those same damn hits over and over. They probably recorded a new album in 2021 just to combat boredom. They learned a bunch of Petty covers for the same reason.

In my imagination, it’s gotta be hard to play the same stuff over and over and over to crowds of strangers, some of whom may have not even paid for their ticket.

On a tangent, I’ve been thinking lately about the different ways a band can perform live. Sometimes they mix it up — very different setlists or arrangements of familiar songs. And sometimes they keep it very much by-the-book. The former maybe keeps things from getting boring / repetitive, but the latter can be better for crowd energy.

As I’ve mentioned a couple of times recently, I’ve been on a big Beach Bunny kick the last couple of months. I’ve watched some of their live sets on YouTube, and they’re awesome, like give me chills. But they play a pretty similar set every time and they play the songs faithful to the recordings. What that brings out though is the sing-along. The crowd is screaming all the lyrics along with Lili, and it makes it so much more impactful. Kind of that take-your-breath away energy, where everybody knows every word and everybody is high on elation. She definitely feeds off the crowd’s energy, to the point that she’s often trying to arrange for crowd movement (everybody jump up when I say “jerk”). It’s a pretty awesome vibe.

I’m guessing Dylan fils isn’t going for that energy — he’s just trying to stave off his own boredom (and if he staves off yours as well, that’s an unexpected bonus).

Pauly Steyreen
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November 16, 2023 12:53 pm
Reply to  Pauly Steyreen

Just to give you an example…

https://youtu.be/7zVDIJG2Aek?si=DinE6znutZgp47Sd

JJ Live At Leeds
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November 16, 2023 3:24 pm

Outstanding review. You were there so we didn’t have to. Should the Wallflowers visit these parts I’ll make sure to put on Highway 61 Revisited and have a night in.

I’ve been to a few live shows that friends have suggested where I haven’t known much about the band. Some work out (The Coathangers were awesome) other times it’s been hard to withstand the urge to look at my watch and hope they haven’t got that much material so I can get home before 11pm.

At its worst I went to see Glass Caves on a friend’s recommendation. He messaged on the day that he’d put his back out and couldn’t make it. I decided to go alone anyway rather than waste the ticket. It wasn’t that they were bad, they were alright if you like that sort of thing. I’ve been to other shows alone and it’s been fine when it’s someone I’m into. Standing on my own watching someone I’d never previously heard and who the best I could say was they were competent quickly lost its appeal. I gave them half an hour and decided the early night was preferable. Only time I’ve ever left a show early.

cappiethedog
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cappiethedog
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November 16, 2023 8:10 pm

Mad props for Jakob Dylan, tapping the elusive Jade Castrinos as a performer for Echo in the Valley. She disappeared after her stint with Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, and did another disappearing act soon after. But at least I have an extra Castrinos performance; duetting with Jakob Dylan on “Go Where You Wanna Go”.

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