What do people want from the Wallflowers at this point in their career? Seven years after their most recent release and 23 years removed from Bringing Down The Horse (the LP that yielded all their hits), the crowd at the Keswick seemed more than willing to settle for ‘90s rock nostalgia—familiar songs played reasonably well by guys who looked like they might’ve been in the band all along. We can all name plenty of white dudes who’ve coasted on less.
But it’s a bit more complicated for Jakob Dylan, who’s always been judged by a different standard. Whether you resented the unfair advantage he had from the start or cut him some slack for growing up in the shadow of a cantankerous messiah, the Wallflowers’ frontman hasn’t had the luxury of sinking into semi-anonymous mediocrity.
As the only man onstage whose tenure in the band is more than provisional, Dylan looked cool, sang great—in a seasoned voice that’s closer to Warren Zevon‘s than Tom Petty’s or his dad’s—and came off as both present and engaged.
Introducing “Invisible City,” he praised the Keswick’s acoustics, noting that the song doesn’t translate as well in the cornfields and arenas where the Wallflowers often find themselves spending their summers.
The audience got what they were after with “Three Marlenas,” “Sixth Avenue Heartache,” “One Headlight” and “The Difference” (all fitting like a perfectly broken-in pair of jeans), though prayers for “Josephine” (some profane) went unanswered. “Laughing Out Loud” was a minor revelation, the hit that got away, and even “God Don’t Make Lonely Girls” held a deep-cut appeal.
While every post-2000s Wallflowers tune seemed destined to blend into the background, some of the sharpest songs were drawn from Dylan’s 2010 solo album, Women + Country. You know he knows it, too; opening the show with “Standing Eight Count” is a deliberate provocation, as is placing “Everybody’s Hurting” smack in the center of the set. They’re a sign of the heights he could hit if he weren’t trapped between the curse of his birth name and the baggage of his band’s early success.
If people wanted more from the Wallflowers at this point in their career, Jakob Dylan could give it to them.
It was a treat to spend an evening in the warm embrace of slide guitars, organ riffs and gravel-skimming vocals—the aural equivalent of a security blanket. Or a cocoon. It’ll be something else entirely if their craftsman can get listeners to follow him wherever he chooses to go next.
—M.J. Fine; photos by Chris Sikich