Jakob Dylan Concert Review

Jakob Dylan and Three Legs
Calvin Theater
Northampton, MA
April 19, 2010

Jakob Dylan performed before a half full Northampton, Massachusetts auditorium on Monday April 19 and “half full” is a pretty good way to describe the evening.

The show opened with the Portland, Oregon-based trio Mimicking Birds. This indie sensation has been generating word-of-mouth buzz, but it was hard for me to fathom what the fuss is about. A commentator on Amazon used the term “lachrymose” to describe the trio’s sound; I’d weigh in with “lethargic.” Nate Lacy has a nice voice and he effortlessly slides between a Neil Young-like wounded eagle register and tones more guttural. It was also intriguing to watch the intensity with which percussionist Aaron Hanson works his craft. For all of that, the sound was so muddy that I couldn’t make out more than a handful of Lacy’s lyrics and the overall feel of the music is akin to what one might write in the state between wakefulness and sleep. Like said moments of liminality, Mimicking Birds neither excited nor bored me—they just filled time and aural space.

As for Dylan, the first impression is how much he looks like his father. But that’s about as close as the chip gets to the block. Jakob isn’t exactly gregarious, but he does acknowledge his audience, speaks to them, and exudes warmth. (Who ever thought the words “Dylan” and “warmth” could occupy the same sentence.) Dylan wasn’t interested in playing the role of brooding artist—he actually seemed to enjoy himself on stage. It would hard not to revel in performing with Neko Case and Kelly Hogan, whose glorious voices played harmony to Dylan’s raspy and expressive lead. Most of the evening’s material was drawn from Dylan’s new record Women & Country and from Seeing Things (2008) rather than from his days fronting The Wallflowers. The Americana label has been slapped on Dylan’s more recent material, mostly because it’s rather hard to peg—some of it is country, some is pop, some is rock, and some leans to the quiet end of the folk music spectrum.

The synergy between Dylan, Case, and Hogan was easily the evening’s highlight. “Nothing But the Whole Wide World” isn’t just a good song; it’s an unforgettable one with Dylan singing the calm center while Case wails and Hogan textures with clear and ethereal tones. Case was especially at home, as one might expect as the band backing Dylan is her band. It’s a tight and talented ensemble, but the irony is that it’s also the weak link, musically speaking. There was first the volume issue. Although the sound wasn’t eardrum-bursting, it was too robust for the venue and sounded a whole lot better from the lobby than from the seventh row. The bigger issue, though, is that Dylan’s current repertoire simply sounds better stripped down. Guitarist Paul Rigby is a force who dazzled the audience on occasion. Fine, but his role is to backup, not be the spotlight. Those moments in which acoustic instruments came out were the evening’s finest.

I can’t fault Dylan for wanting to rock out with Case’s band. There were moments in which things were cooking on the high burner and the audience was juiced. Once again, however, one must distinguish between crowd-pleasers and what is most aesthetically sound. I enjoyed the show, but did not love it. The reality is that Dylan’s tiny desk concert he did at NPR studios is superior to anything he did at the Calvin. At NPR it was just Dylan, Case, Hogan, an acoustic guitar, and drop-dead gorgeous harmonies. Yeah, I know that the “folk music” label isn’t commercially lucrative these days, but if there’s ever a “Jakob Dylan Unplugged” concert, I’m there. As for the current show, I’ve seen it, it was okay, and I don’t need a refill.

1 comment:

AdamH said...

Apostrophes are the new Boston R - missing from where they should be and inserted where they shouldn't be.

Reading any sort of media nowadays just get's harder and harder. I'm sure your seeing the same thing. Their just all wrong...

(p.s. The above paragraph was inserted for dramatic effect/comedic relief; your choice.)