Live Review: The Wallflowers at Chicago’s Schubas Tavern (7/27)


the wallflowers heather kaplan 11 Live Review: The Wallflowers at Chicagos Schubas Tavern (7/27)

On Friday night, The Wallflowers knocked out a near two hour set at Chicago’s Schubas Tavern. It’s a rare mini-tour of sorts. With a few months to spare before they drop their sixth studio full-length, Glad All Over, the ’90s veterans have spent their last week post-Firefly checking into select intimate venues like New York City’s Bowery Ballroom and New Jersey’s The Stone Pony. Some frame of reference: The last time the band swung through the Second City, they were headlining a set at the Taste of Chicago, an event which draws a couple million customers throughout the week. The music room at Schubas can hold 200 tops. Yeah, it’s not every day you see a two time Grammy award-winning artist in what’s essentially the size of a healthy one bedroom apartment.

Naturally, intimacy played a big part in the success of Friday night’s gig. Not only was it quite surreal to see Jakob Dylan with that hat of his and that boyish smile which snuck up amidst the pockets of stage light, but it was equally thrilling to hear the pounding percussion from the legendary Jack Irons. Here’s a guy that’s backed and tracked some of the strongest, most hard-hitting anthems (literally) in rock over the last two decades, and he was within arms length and on a stage that would have trouble fitting a couch. So, basically, they could have played a 45 minute version of Bob Dylan’s “Tight Connection to My Heart” and it still would have been revelatory – maybe.

the wallflowers heather kaplan 021 Live Review: The Wallflowers at Chicagos Schubas Tavern (7/27)

They didn’t, though. Instead, they powered through a strong set of classics and new material. Now, maybe because it’s been nearly two decades after the fact, but it’s really baffling (and yet oddly reassuring) how powerful 1996’s Bringing Down the Horse remains. Some might agreeably lump The Wallflowers in with a number of late ’90s artists (e.g. Sheryl Crow, Third Eye Blind, maybe Natalie Imbruglia), but one revisit to that album, one re-listen of “One Headlight” or “6th Avenue Heartache” or “Three Marlenas” or “The Difference”, and it’s hard to dismiss them as a relic of the decade. And it’s harder to ignore the fact that the album went on to go four times platinum in one year. Though, with all that context, it’s quite easy to understand why they’d never be able to follow that up.

the wallflowers heather kaplan 01 Live Review: The Wallflowers at Chicagos Schubas Tavern (7/27)“If we play something familiar we can go back to playing new stuff, right?” Dylan pleaded, one of many ample requests throughout the night. Here’s why The Wallflowers never really bounced back: Their fans wouldn’t let them. If anything, these intimate gigs should be a collection of their most ardent followers — those willing to click for tickets the second they went on sale, or settle the score with scalpers. These shows aren’t for the casual passersby. Yet, there wasn’t much fanfare for the new material, which is really disappointing because most of it’s pretty damn good: Opener “The Devil’s Waltz” and latest single “Reboot the Mission” bake on ’80s reggae beats, while “Have Mercy On Him Now” and “It’s a Dream” find Dylan tuning into ’70s radio hits by Petty and Springsteen. Granted, fans offered applause after each performance, but they weren’t visibly into it like they were during even later hits like ”Sleepwalker” (off 2000’s (Breach)).

Perhaps it’s a generational thing. Admittedly, it was hard to argue the crowd’s preferences when tracks like “Three Marlenas” or “6th Avenue Heartache” ring so hard and hold so many memories. Let’s be real: This was a crowd that actually bought albums and probably payed something like $18.99 for Bringing Down the Horse. So, there’s a rare, lost reverence tied to these songs. Hell, Dylan could write a handful of stronger tracks (and some might wager he has) and the majority would still scream louder during “One Headlight”. Full disclosure: I’m not going to lie, I couldn’t help but perk up when they struck up any of those tracks, especially “One Headlight”. Screaming alongside 100 something people to a song I remember so fondly screaming alone to in my room all felt very emotional.

Still, there’s a band that’s evolving and growing here. They might be swimming too far into roots rock, but it fits their style these days and that’s something to revere. There was a moment during their encore, when the ever personable Dylan announced they’d attempt a track they hadn’t performed in quite a while: “God Don’t Make Lonely Girls”. Before giving it the post-college try, Dylan laughed alongside his bandmates and joked, “I can’t wait to see how this goes.” In a way, that’s the mantra for this well-oiled reunion. Dylan’s hardly resting on his laurels and, like the spontaneous setlist inclusion, it’s all working out just fine. Now, it’s just time for his fans to evolve.

Photography by Heather Kaplan.

The Devil’s Waltz
Have Mercy On Him Now
Hospital for Sinners
Reboot the Mission
6th Avenue Heartache
It’s a Dream
Misfits and Lovers
Closer to You
First One in the Car
I’ve Been Delivered
Love is a Country
Three Marlenas
Standing Eight Count
One Headlight
It Won’t Be Long
God Don’t Make Lonely Girls
(What’s So Funny About) Peace Love and Understanding (Nick Lowe cover)
The Difference

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