WALLFLOWERS @ OGDEN THEATRE | 10/24/12
Jakob Dylan must be a hell of a poker player. Last night's show at the Ogden proved that, as the Wallflowers frontman crooned through a couple dozen songs with a stony glare on his face. Clad in black and looking every bit as youthful as he did at the peak of his '90s stardom, Dylan came across either as a man comfortably in control, or apathetic to the point that he's no longer trying to fake being excited.
The Wallflowers took the stage just as snow began falling like a ticker tape parade, with the Dave Clark Five tune "Glad All Over" still playing over the loudspeakers. No big introductions. Just five guys plugging in and playing. The set began with "Everything I Need," from 2005's largely ignored Red Letter Days. Upbeat, with folk flourishes and blue-collar lyricism, this was a great lead-in for a set that spanned the course of the band's twenty year career.
The next few songs went by in a blur. "Have Mercy on Him," a funky, '60s soul throwback from the Wallflowers' weeks-old release Glad All Over, came next, followed by another new tune, "The Devil's Waltz." The crowd, a mix of conservative fortysomethings and college kids, was sympathetic to these songs they'd obviously never heard. "You guys indulge us, because we haven't had a chance to play these new songs much," Dylan said during one of the very rare instances of inter-song banter.
The band remained subdued through the middle of the set, which included Glad All Over lead-off track "Hospital for Sinners" and one of -- let's face it, two -- of the band's big hits, "6th Avenue Heartache." Keyboardist Rami Jaffee's performance here, as throughout the show, was a stark contrast to his bandmates. Jumping, frog-marching and occasionally doing his best Mick Jagger chicken-cluck dance , this guy had more energy than the rest of the guys combined. Meanwhile, Dylan remained stoic. You had to wonder: What was he thinking? What was his favorite cartoon? Who was his favorite lover?
Dylan's a born performer, despite playing songs that sound more like Bruce Springsteen than anything his father (Bob, duh) ever did. Sure, "Have Mercy on Him" did bear a resemblance to pop's 1989 hit "Everything is Broken." But then, if you're playing blue-collar country-rock songs and your dad's released 35 albums over a four-decade career, some of your material -- anyone's material -- is bound to sound like him at some point.
Such is the problem with being rock star spawn. Julian Lennon is (was?) by all accounts a fine musician, but there was no sense of urgency to his music either. The Wallflowers are durable and talented guys and deserving of all the praise they receive -- even the Grammys they won in '98. But the fact that you can tell how songs end as soon as they begin is not the most exciting thing to hear or watch, either.
This is a shame, since their newer material (including the late-set Gang of Four-esque inclusion, "Reboot the Mission") really does deserve repeated listens. That song and others from Glad All Over shows the broken-up (in 2007) and now reformed band branching out into more mainstream pop territory. 1996's "God Don't Make Lonely Girls" showcased the guys retreating into an alt-country boogie, a testimony to the diversity the Wallflowers are capable of.
And let's not forget Dylan and company's ability to craft a hit. Late in the set came "One Headlight," sped up slightly from its original version and featuring a fast-spoken adaptation by Dylan. For this tiny fact, I swear he could not escape his papa's influence. Have you ever seen Bob Dylan in the Band documentary The Last Waltz? The man tweaked his own songs mercilessly. And in that 1976 performance, just like his son's last night, it was hard to tell exactly what the man on stage was thinking.
Personal Bias: Having covered three of the '90s biggest acts in recent weeks (Alanis Morrissette, the Offspring, and now this), I can say without reservation that the Wallflowers have held up far better than their contemporaries.
Random Note: Drummer Jack Irons, most famous for his gigs with the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Pearl Jam, was behind the kit last night. Talk about a guy with stories.
By the Way: Nobody in the band communicated with each other, aside from Dylan whispering a couple things to Jaffee. It was like the other bandmembers were glued to their positions behind the mikes.