My Morning Jacket, Wilco, & Bob Dylan
Comcast Center, Mansfield, 07/20/13
By: Kevin Gartland
As roadies with white hair and ponytails lit outdoor heaters on either side of the stage, the crowd roared. A dark shadow with a pork pie hat broke through the fanning light. After a night of excellent music it was time for the headliner, Bob Dylan.
My Morning Jacket outdid every act of the night as the opener. Wilco was a close second and Bob Dylan was a distant third. Before I go on, I will defend this vicious ranking. I do like Bob Dylan. I listen to Blonde on Blonde, Highway 61 Revisited and Bringing It All Back Home regularly, however I must admit that I’ve never listened to his more recent albums or many of his others. His work is one of the many black holes in music that I haven’t explored. I was drawn to this show not entirely by Wilco and My Morning Jacket, but also a desire to watch the Greatest American Musician.
The night began with Jim James and My Morning Jacket. Wearing his lion’s mane-like hair in the heavy 90-degree heat, James and his band delivered a growling 90-minute set. This was the first time I’d seen My Morning Jacket and I was surprised that each musician looked suited for a different genre. The drummer, a Metalhead. Rhythm guitar, a small club Indie Rocker. On keys a Jazz Musician. Rhythm guitar, a Southern Rocker. Then Jim James, a man who perhaps wandered out of the wilderness of Kentucky directly onto a stage in suburban Massachusetts to entertain us all.
They played sprawling southern, psychedelic rock from each of their six albums – none getting preferential treatment. James rocked his falsetto perfectly and got non-fan hand-sitters to stand for his antics. The ample seating still sparse with audience members as the sun was still shining bright, James joked that there are three types of people who come to see the opening act:
- True fans who came to see them.
2. Music fans who may have heard of them and have been converted to fans.
3. Audience members who came for the headliner and don’t give a shit.
During their excellent performance there were plenty of 1s and 2s with no 3s that I could find. The overall crowd favorite was a cover of The Band; “Don’t Do It”. A very appropriate song as Dylan of course was involved in popularizing The Band in the late 60s.
Next Wilco came out. I missed their opening two songs as I was getting a beer in a short but highly inefficiently run beer line. That’s a complaint for another night. Tweedy (also wearing a pork-pie hat) and his band members dressed in classic 60s southern garb were on stage when I returned to my seat.
Tweedy belted out his tunes in his raspy, country-light voice that we all love. Many of the songs selected were from their alt-country-est album, AM. The twang used to mix in with Bob Dylan’s set perhaps.
It was the always-mesmerizing “Via Chicago” got the audience to their feet though. The disarming acoustic guitar and calm vocals contrasted by the fits of anxiety-inducing strobes of Nels Cline distortion-rock frenzied the crowd. Grey-haired women were dancing in the rows mixed with long-haired slack-jawed youths. A surprising finale was the best of the night though. Tweedy invited the entire MMJ band to join the stage with them. Each member of both bands began a familiar tune with perfect timing. Distortion rang from each instrument including a sax from the MMJ crew. A moment passed before the noise could be recognized.
It was “Tomorrow Never Knows” by The Beatles. A great selection that energized the crowed and prepared them for the headliner.
Then Dylan. He arrived on a set lit with warm lights and the aforementioned outdoor gas heaters. He removed his pork-pie hat to reveal his iconic curly hair; now grey. Accompanied by a crew of anonymous musicians in beige zoot suites and fedoras, he took the mic stand with confidence and familiarity that 50(!) years’ affords a performer. His voice, though not the haughty and raspy voice that I’m used to on his records, wasn’t bad. Just different. I’ll call it a higher pitched Tom Waits’ croon. The voice wasn’t the problem here as other reviewers may suggest.
The Anonymous Crew of Beige Musicians played on time with technical proficiency; bobbing at the precise moments of pristine melody with the timing of a well-trained actor. Dylan faced the crowed as he sang his newer tunes and the crowed roared and whistled at the conclusion of every cleanly rehearsed song. The Anonymous Crew of Beige Musicians faced Him during every song; not the audience. That must have been a requirement as he recently canned two rhythm guitarists from the tour in the past two weeks. Any slip-up and a beige fedora might be stomped out back-stage. It was a weird 1984 vibe where Dylan was Big Brother.
He played “Tangled Up in Blue”, which was great. It’s a perfect song. It just IS and no amount of odd stage dynamics can remove the joy from it. However, after that my wife got a splitting headache, likely due to coming down from the sugar high she received from her guitar-cup-shaped “margarita” (just serve real drinks Comcast Center!) – so we left. Neither of us were disappointed with the night. It was fun. It was great to see the Greatest American Musician perform live. That’s not a sarcastic comment either. He truly is the Greatest American Musician; He just can’t perform as one anymore, which is okay – he’s seventy-fucking-two!
On the way home as some sort of weird musical baptism we played Highway 61 Revisited to cleanse us from the sin of walking out of a Bob Dylan show early. “Like a Rolling Stone” blared as the warm air blew through our hair and I felt guilty thinking, “That’s the Bob Dylan I wish I could see.”