By my estimation, this incarnation of the Wallflowers now has two large shadows to live under.
First of all, there is the inescapable fact that lead singer Jakob Dylan is the son of the legendary Bob Dylan, a fact that is equal parts blessing/curse for any one looking to go it on their own. Secondly, the 2012 version of The Wallflowers now have to deal with the excruciating weight that is Bringing Down The Horse, their mega breakout album from 1996 that spawned hit singles such as The Difference, Three Marlenas, Sixth Avenue Heartache and of course, One Headlight.
Judging by their show at the Phoenix on Tuesday night, it is not a burden that has gone unnoticed.
Having recently reformed, The Wallflowers had recently taken to the road in promotion of their new record, Glad All Over. It’s a comeback album and has garnered some positive reviews from the press. However, you can’t escape the past and clearly it was the past that was the main reason why the crowd at the Phoenix paid forty some odd dollars to see the Wallflowers Tuesday night. The struggle a band faces between wanting to play their new material while keeping the fans happy with familiar ones is a struggle all bands face. After witnessing the Wallflowers very odd show on Tuesday, it’s a clear fact they are still dealing with it.
When you say a show is very odd, you pretty much have to state why, so here are some reasons in point form why the show came off as a bit weird to me
Jakob Dylan came off as a very defensive person, starting the show with banter such as (paraphrasing):
“Welcome to the show, we are going to have a good time, you are going to hear some new songs, you are going to hear songs you are very familiar with and everyone will leave very happy tonight“
Translation: “We’ll play One Headlight later”
It really wasn’t quite the words he would use throughout the night that made it seem off, it was how he would say those words. To me, it sounded like words from a band that knows the fans are there for one thing while they are there for another. It sounded like coddling, like a promise of a candy after a needle shot. It just sounded off.
Speaking of One Headlight. Obviously it was the song everyone wanted to hear and it seemed that Jakob would get more and more annoyed each time someone would yet it out. He would start teasing the crowd with introductions like
“Some songs are timeless, this song to me is timeless and I think you think so too“
“Here it is, your favorite song“
Before some random new tracks. Clearly, he was having fun with the crowd, but I’m not so sure if there wasn’t some menace behind it. Maybe he genuinely thinks his new material is like that.
The new material was a hard sell for the fans but sounded alright. The tracks came off as a typical roots-based rock which despite the Dylan last name seem to take more from the catalogs of Springsteen or Tom Petty than his father. Some of the tracks actually had me thinking that a really good Wallflowers song should be covered by Springsteen for some reason. It’s got that vibe. Guitarist Stuart Mathis is a revelation on the ax and was the musical heart and soul for the show. The man can pull off some great rhythm and blues licks on his guitar and was a driving force on Tuesday night. Speaking of guitars, it was pretty funny to see Jakob Dylan on the guitar. I guess he was rhythm guitarist or something, but it appeared that he would only play like, one or two chords per song. Sometimes I was wondering why he had a guitar on stage in the first place.
Of course the fans came for the old material and we were awarded with among other things, a ten minute version of Sixth Avenue Heartache that just sounded fantastic.
As the show made it’s way towards the end, it became time for One Headlight, the iconic 90s rock song that was on every mix-tape from the years 1996 to 1997. The drums, the familiar chords and the unforgettable first line “So long ago I don’t remember when” whipped the crowd into a frenzy (as much of a frenzy as a crowd of 35-45 could get into, which means there was some rapid head nodding). I’m pretty sure everyone who went to the show was waiting for this moment and it was a chance for a lot of people to catch a song they really enjoyed live that they probably never got a chance to fifteen or so years ago. Yet something joyous quickly turned into something very different when during the last verse of the track, Dylan decided to let the crowd sing but was basically met with general silence. For the record, the lyrics were
I sit alone, and I feel just like somebody else
Man, I ain’t changed, but I know I ain’t the same
But somewhere here in between the city walls of dyin’ dreams
I think her death it must be killin’ me
This seem to upset Dylan, who then told the crowd he could do this all night and then told the band to turn it down a little before going a rant about how people thought the first line of that verse was “I’m so alone, and I feel like just somebody else” instead of what it is, which is “I sit alone, and I feel just like somebody else“. He would then tell the crowd he would never write that because it’s so sad, that’s just not him and some other words before my friend turned to me and asked “what the hell is going on?” Perhaps sensing growing hostility/bewilderment in the audience, the band quickly finished off that song. The damage was done though.
The Difference finished off the set and well, we left the Phoenix in a bit a daze. It was a bizarre show and really for me, illustrated how a band can be simultaneously enabled and crippled by early success. The new material held up well on it’s own, but was completely dwarfed by the legacy that was Bringing Down the Horse. I guess it’s a burden that the Wallflowers will have to continually battle as they continue on with their careers. We’ll see how that works out.