Setting Son

The Wallflowers wither in the hype.

This approach is common in the heartland rock to which Dylan aspires, but those who trascend the genre have done so by infusing its rudiments with so much muscle and sincerity that originality is no longer an issue, and he simply isn't equal to the task. "Sleepwalker," the first single from (Breach), has a couple of chord progressions that stick out, as do previous chart-scalers like "One Headlight" that the band trotted out every time momentum flagged. However, "Murder 101" and others recall outtakes from lesser Springsteen discs, like Lucky Town, that even aficionados haven't spun since two weeks after they came out due to a sense of obligation. They wouldn't make most people lunge for the radio dial, but neither would they inspire them to turn up the volume. Likewise, Dylan's lyrics imply a depth that they never attain. Take "Letters From the Wasteland," a song whose title waves its importance like a flag but settles for hackneyed images such as "It may take two to tango/But boy, just one to let go" -- a couplet that only people who count using their fingers could possibly see as insightful.

Dylan's stage presence further undermined any pretensions toward profundity. Dressed like Mike Meyers in his "Sprockets" sketches on Saturday Night Live, he wiggled a time or two while in the spotlight and occasionally lowered his lids to simulate introspection. But when the music stopped and he was called upon to communicate directly with the paying customers, he reverted to gently sarcastic banter whose subtext escaped him at times. For instance, he pretended at one point to be confused about which Fillmore he was playing -- the one in Denver or its San Francisco precursor: After reminiscing about a video he'd filmed in the venue several years ago (yes, it was really shot in the City by the Bay), he said, "Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane -- a lot of history here." But he didn't seem to realize that anyone in the room could do a similar bit about him: "Saw Dylan at the Fillmore, and he looked so young! But he didn't do 'Like a Rolling Stone,' and he was really boring..."

That's no exaggeration. As the Wallflowers' set wound down, Dylan launched into a rendition of David Bowie's "Heroes" (originally cut for inclusion in the blockbuster-wannabe Godzilla) that was overtly faithful, but he somehow managed to replace the mystery and melodrama of the original with little more than amplification. Even worse was another classic-rock fave that was rolled out after "Baby Bird" -- the Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again." Listening to the familiar keyboard intro, I found myself thinking, "He's got to have a good reason to cover the single most overplayed song in the Who's catalogue. He's going to do something different with it -- give it an unexpected twist." But no -- the Wallflowers just ran through the damn thing like a million bar bands before it, and a million more yet to be born.

Jakob Dylan and the Wallflowers: We wonder what they're doing here.
Jakob Dylan and the Wallflowers: We wonder what they're doing here.

Will music lovers get fooled again, too? Maybe not: Despite the hoopla that's surrounded the arrival of (Breach), the album is tanking -- at press time, it was number 81 on the Billboard album roster and falling fast -- and the Fillmore concert fell considerably short of selling out. But even if Jakob Dylan soon goes the way of Julian Lennon, he won't be the last over-ballyhooed celebrity offspring to be touted as the Next Big Thing. When music writers have white space to fill, they'll grab for the most promising candidate available -- whether he has something to say or not.

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