Without any effort, Crawdaddy, for one night only, is transformed into a dive bar in Nashville. Fomer Wallflowers frontman, Jakob Dylan, shuffles on-stage with band members that wouldn’t look out of place on father Bob’s Rolling Thunder Revue tour of ’75. The audience is inevitably split into three strands: a) Bob Dylan fanatics, a.k.a Dylanologists, who are there for obvious reasons, b) those that were among the many millions who bought a copy of The Wallflowers’ Bringing Down the Horse, and finally, c) Alt. Country devotees, charmed by his current foray into country music. His 2008 debut solo album, Seeing Things produced by Rick Rubin, hinted at a talent that was maturing and convincingly tapping into the sound and tradition of American roots music, which came to fruition with this year’s T Bone Burnett produced Women and Country. On both albums, Dylan achieved a tempo and a sound that works as one consistent piece and this, ultimately, is what goes against him in a live setting.
He immediately launches into ‘Nothin’ But the Whole Wide World’ followed by ‘Everybody’s Hurting’, both of which are contemplative mid-tempo country songs, the latter using his backup singers to full effect. Unfortunately, Dylan and his band never really stray far from this form and the result is a set that is one-dimensional, lacking in surprise and anything but dynamic. Even performances of Wallflowers songs, ‘God Says Nothing Back’, ‘Three Malenas’ and ‘6th Avenue Heartache’, aren’t enough to add momentum. What forces him into an even darker hole is that he either isn’t playing his guitar or his guitar is so low in the mix that it can’t possibly be heard.
Add to this his refusal to take any risks and deviate from a set list that he is clearly accustomed to on this tour and one finds a performer and a band that gets too comfortable. One immediately thinks of what Dylan could have done to turn the format of the evening upside down and inject a sense of the unpredictable. He could have, for example, thrown in an interesting cover version or banished his band from the stage and performed a short set of songs, solo, without amplification, to this small, devoted and intimate audience. Dylan has no doubt learned how to craft a set of songs for an album but he has yet to find a way to perform his songs in a way that truly engages.