For the second time in less than a month, I found myself spending a Friday evening in the beautiful and historic Carnegie Library Music Hall, which sits perched on a hill overlooking Homesteads waterfront. When John Hiatt visited a few weeks ago, I was reasonably confident that I was in store for a set of his patented brand of country-garage rock. I wasnt as sure what to expect from long-time Wallflowers frontman Jakob Dylan.
Dylan, who earlier in the week released the brilliant, country-tinged Women and Country, recently explained to The Pittsburgh Post Gazette, I dont take the records preciously, that youre supposed to reproduce those. Weve only done a handful of shows, and well let them breathe and go wherever they want to go. This comment naturally piqued my curiosity and raised several questions. How would Dylan play his new songs live? How exactly would indie starlet Neko Case and her regular backing band, Three Legs, support him? And would Dylan be reaching into his back catalog for some choice selections from his first solo effort, Seeing Things, and his beloved records with The Wallflowers?
Fridays show opened the tour for Dylan and Three Legs, and with the same good-natured spirit and politeness Dylan brought to the stage, Ill choose to classify the performance as a warm-up for better things to come later in the tour. Dylan began the set with the gorgeous Nothing But the Whole Wide World, which sounds even fuller and lusher in person. A workmanlike Everybodys Hurting followed and managed to capture the grim essence of the Women and Country version, as Case and Kelly Hogan backed Dylan on vocals. At this point, there was no reason to believe the show would head south, but as the set continued, it became evident that Dylan and his band werent on the same page.
Dylan spent a good portion of the evening playing band conductor, going from member to member mid-song in an attempt to convey what was needed. On Everybody Pays As They Go, the band cut the song one verse short, and Dylan was forced to restart the number from a dead silence. Dylan and Case struggled through a duet of Smile When You Call Me That, unsure of which lyrics should be sung by whom. And an otherwise stellar Down On Our Own Shield was unfortunately marred by a clashing of backing vocals between Case and Hogan.
If Dylan and his band were less experienced, the night could have really turned disappointing, but Dylan kept the crowd firmly on his side. About the evenings difficulties, he joked, Its all part of the show, folks. Its all rehearsal. He sweetly dedicated a gentle Yonder Come The Blues to Gracie, a toddler in the third row who was at her first rock show. And when the band struggled to begin Evil Is Alive and Well, Dylan restarted the song and delivered a suped-up version that got the audience dancing in the theater aisles.
When Dylan and Three Legs retook the stage for their encore, the crowd was still hoping that the band would click, even if only for a few songs. Unfortunately, it wasnt meant to be. By this time, Dylans voice was clearly going on him, and the band was just trying the best they could to finish out the set without another breakdown. Dylan struggled through Something Good This Way Comes and Three Marlenas and thanked the crowd before leaving the stage.
I wont venture to guess whether a lack of rehearsal or unfamiliarity between Dylan and the band was the main culprit on Friday night, but the result was a set that failed to do justice to the wonderful new material from Women and Country. Weve learned some lessons tonight and taken notes, Dylan told the audience near the shows conclusion. Given his track record and the obvious talent of Three Legs, its likely the group will learn from Friday and round into form as the tour continues.
Theres still plenty of reason to believe that something good this way comes when Jakob Dylan visits your city in the weeks ahead.