Friday, July 19, 2013

Americanarama: July 6, 2013: One for the Ages

When the Americanarama Festival of Music tour was announced last spring I knew it would be a special show since it would feature some truly special and historically relevant acts like My Morning Jacket, Wilco, and Bob Dylan.  And they did not disappoint. 

My Morning Jacket performed an ecstatic set of tunes ranging from hard rock to spaced out psychedelia.  Like a good opening act they raised a high bar for the others on the bill.  In one of the night's most memorable moments, Wilco joined MMJ onstage to perform George Harrison's "Isn't it a Pity" from All Things Must Pass.

Ever Since Wilco's modest beginnings they have gained a loyal following through non-stop touring and the versatile songwriting of Jeff Tweedy.  In 2013, Wilco stands as one of the best American bands currently recording. Their live sets display an excellent musicianship and an array of musical styles within the classic rock tradition.  Their collaboration with English folk rocker Billy Bragg of unrecorded Woody Guthrie songs revived the folk tradition for the Gen X crowd.

In their 14 song set list Wilco mixed the old with the new.  They opened with the subdued "Either Way" from Sky Blue Sky.  Two tracks from the Mermaid Avenue sessions "When the Roses Bloom Again," and "California Stars" tapped into their Americana roots.  Richard Thompson joined them for a cover of his 1970 Fairpoint Convention song, "Sloth."  Their alt-country roots were displayed with "Forget the Flowers" from Being There.  Another standout was a lush version of "How to Fight Loneliness" from Summerteeth.  In their 90 minutes on stage, Wilco delivered a nice slice of their recording history.

Dylan, now in the 25th year of his "Never ending Tour," took the stage wearing a white jacket and a fully pressed suit looking like he just stepped off a riverboat.  He stared into the audience like a figure from a Sergio Leone film.  As darkness descended on the Pavilion, Dylan kicked things off with his Oscar winning song, "Things Have Changed," in an almost unrecognizable Tex-Mex beat.  Next came a blistering version of "Love Sick" from Time Out of Mind with Dylan emphasizing the line, "I wish I never met you."  The moodiness continued with "High Water (for Charley Patton)" from "Love and Theft" with its irreverent blend of erotic and apocalyptic imagery, "don't reach out for me/ she said/can't you see I'm drowning to."

Three songs from Dylan's most recent album Tempest were played.  "Soon After Midnight" recalls the tender 1950s doo-wop sound with Dylan reminiscing about an old lover 
while considering wiping out one of her new suitors, "I'll drag his corpse through the mud." Another new song "Duquesne Whistle" evokes a vanishing America existing only in memory, "I wonder if that old oak tree is still standing/ that old oak tree/the one we used to climb."  The bluesy "Early Roman Kings" backed by a Muddy Waters riff continues Dylan's one man war against mortality - a dominant theme in his 21st century recordings.

Classics from Dylan's back pages highlighted the second half of his performance   Hearing Dylan sing the lyrics to "A Hard Rain's a gonna fall" never fails to lose its power.  And then came "Blind Willie McTell" , an outtake from Dylan's 1983 album Infidels; a song many consider one of his best.  Never released until 1989, "Blind Willie" is a tribute to a blues legend, while confronting America's history with slavery. Dylan closed the evening with a restrained version of "All Along the Watchtower" and "Ballad of a Thin Man."

At age 72, many wonder what motivates Dylan to keep up his heavy touring schedule. In a revealing 2002 interview with Ed Bradley on 60 Minutes, Dylan explained he was upholding a tradition and honoring a pact he made "a long time ago."  The "Neverending Tour" makes me think of an anecdote I once heard about baseball legend Joe DiMaggio. When asked by a friend why he continued playing so hard in the latter stages of his career "Joltin" Joe replied:  "Because there might be somebody out there who's never seen me play before." Dylan knows his music means many things to lots of different people and the concerts allow him to share the gift of his art to all who have been touched by his amazing gift.

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