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Live Review: Bob Dylan, Wilco, and My Morning Jacket

July 24, 2013

americanarama_web_1To understand why My Morning Jacket is the most overrated band in modern rock, one had only to hear their attempt to recreate the Band’s arrangement of the Marvin Gaye song, “Don’t Do It,” at the Americanarama Festival at Merriweather Post Pavilion Tuesday. Jim James’ blaring, unfocused guitar noodling made him, if not the Anti-Christ, at least the Anti-Robbie Robertson. True, James possesses an astonishing vocal instrument, but so does Mariah Carey, and James’ diva-like wailing—mostly vowels and few consonants—made him the Anti-Marvin. And Patrick Hallahan’s drumming—simultaneously stiff and cluttered—made him the Anti-Levon.

To understand why Jeff Tweedy is the weak link in the Wilco chain, one had only to hear the band’s live version of “Dawned on Me” in the set following My Morning Jacket’s. It wasn’t Tweedy’s high-school-poetry lyrics nor his repeating-ad-nauseum, sing-song melody that made the song so appealing. It was the never-predictable sound pouring out of Nels Cline’s doublenecked guitar, which helpfully obscured the words and added the missing dramatic tension to the music. And the crackerjack rhythm section of bassist John Stirratt, drummer Glenn Kotche and keyboardists Pat Sansone and Mikael Jorgensen tightened and loosened that tension incompelling fashion.

To understand why Bob Dylan’s 21st century work is nearly the equal of his 20th century work, one had only to hear his live version of “High Water (For Charley Patton)” during his headlining set on Tuesday. Dressed in a blue jacket with gold buttons, his frizzy, curly hair rising like smoke off his head, Dylan stood at the microphone without an instrument and transformed the 1927 flood of the Mississippi River into a vision of end times. Backed by longtime accompanists Donnie Herron on banjo, Tony Garnier on bass, rhythm guitarist Stu Kimball and drummer George Recife and by guitarist Colin Linden, hired nine days earlier, Dylan sang with a clearer voice and more restraint than in recent years. Having described thunder over Clarksdale, water in the streets of Vicksburg and coffins floating in that water, he sang, “I can’t be happy unless you’re happy too.” Then he paused significantly and in his most serrated rasp, added, “It’s bad out there.”

  • TD

    Calling one of our generation’s best songwriters a weak link is not only ridiculous but also uninformed. It’s most likely not the fault of the writer but why did City Paper choose to use 350ish words to cover what was perhaps Merriweather’s biggest concert of the year? And 21st century Dylan equaling 20th century Dylan? Now that’s just controversy for controversy’s sake. I won’t even get into MMJ because I’m starting to wonder whether the writer attended the show.

  • CB

    I also find it interesting that you chose to focus on Wilco’s “Dawned on Me” – one of Tweedy’s weaker songs lyrically – and not “I am Trying To Break Your Heart” or “Shot in the Arm” two incredibly dark and beautifully written tunes (musically but especially lyrically). I recommend a copy edit.

  • Jon Carroll

    Wow. I hope you have health insurance so you can go get your ears checked.

  • LL

    Poorly written review. Definitely wrote this article to spark some fumes and arguments, but failed miserably for everyone knows you have no idea what you’re talking about.

  • baxiwolecexo

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    I also find it interesting that
    you chose to focus on Wilco’s “Dawned on Me” – one of Tweedy’s weaker
    songs lyrically – and not “I am Trying To Break Your Heart” or “Shot in
    the Arm” two incredibly dark and beautifully written tunes (musically
    but especially lyrically). I recommend a copy edit.

  • Most Of The Time

    My Morning Jacket are perhaps the best performing outfit of their generation. Wilco is also excellent and Dylan is a living legend. To understand this writer’s review is to I guess live in “Not-DC” and “Not-Philadelphia.” What a clueless clod. Oh, uh, while the writer has a knack for cleverness, Paula Dean wrote a book or two too. What a toolbox.

  • Bill

    Check out the albums Love & Theft, Together Thru Life, Modern Times, and The Tempest and then tell me those 21st century Dylan albums aren’t as good as anything you’ve heard. Live Dylan isn’t what he use to be, but in the studio he’s as good or better than ever.

  • Fan

    Maybe you don’t get Jeff Tweedy’s lyrics, lyrics from one of the best lyricists of our time, but if you don’t like them, what’s better? Bob Dylan was fantastic and MMJ were fine too, but Wilco is the tightest, greatest live act of our times. Their Merriweather performance this time around was no exception, albeit shortened by their supporting act status. It was riveting, and no one anywhere around me in the venue would disagree — the crowd caught fire. Among the clever, thoughtful lyrics, powerful breaks, cacophonous wailing, and flawless rythms of Wilco’s repetoire, Dawned on Me is a pop song, and a darned good one, and unlike most pop songs it also rocks.

    As for your review, it’s pretty well idiotic, condescending, and amateurish.

  • TD

    I have heard all of those albums and think they are great – especially Love And Theft. But those albums can’t be compared to The Times They Are a-Changin’, Bringing it All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited or Blonde on Blonde. The work he did in the 60s is timeless, legendary, and poignant and won’t be surpassed by him or anyone else.

  • bcks

    My impression of the evening was somewhat more visceral. The opening acts were more noise than music, the first relied solely on volume to skew our belief that what we were hearing was actually music when it was merely decimal level.  MMJ continued in this vein, amplifying any errors of rhythm, tone, pitch and overall structure.  Wilco was more self controlled and a further improvement, a step in the right direction, you could see where they intended to take it and you knew it when they got there. But when Dylan arrived things finally tightened up. Art had arrived at the MMP. The sound was crisp and fluent, the execution professional, the act rehearsed a thousand times, and yet, still new. They knew what they were doing and they did it. The creative process isn’t something you can do without inspiration and the difference between plodding along and being inspired is exponential. And the difference between the opening acts and Dylan can only be measured on a logarithmic scale.

  • Big Wave Dave

    Never ever never have I been on such a markedly different wavelength with a critic. Mr Himes, your opinions are breathtakingly off base and should represent you only and not a newspaper. And did you mean “appealing” or “appalling” in the second paragraph? I suggest proof reading. Something tells me you went in to the show not liking Wilco or MMJ and your writing seems to me to bear this out.

  • Rick Magee

    I’ve seen many Dylan shows and have always given the opening acts I didn’t know (BR-549, Ani Difranco, Dave Alvin, Susan Tedeschi…) my open-minded attention and found them very entertaining. I gave each of the opening acts at Americana the same. Each one, I’m sorry to say, I found nearly torturous. My understanding is that Dylan selected them himself, so this is just a case where Dylan and I disagree. While this was not the best Dylan concert I’ve seen of the 20+ I’ve attended since 1981,it was quite good. “Tangled Up in Blue” and “A Hard Rain’s A Gonna Fall” were weak and disorganized, but his newer songs more than made up for this. I wish he’d premiered his collaboration on The Band’s “The Weight” during this show instead of the following night!!!!!!

  • Angelina Davis

    I suppose if it wasn’t for the comment section in these publications, no one would ever really know what happened at a show like this. The same old boring commentary mimmicked by every paid professional it seems. My take on the three warm up acts presently taking stage with Dylan (having never heard either before) was that they were all very good at their game. Of course it’s all been done before, but first impression of Ryan Bingham was that he reminded me of a young Bob. His singing sounded older than his youthful exterior, he had a remarkably rich vocal range for someone so slight. He rendered a solid and powerful folk rock type set on acoustic.
    His band was very competent I’d see him again on his own.

    MMJ was kind of a Vaudeville act. I didn’t mind their hardcore sound they had kind of a Led Zep slash Jim Morrison thing going on, the lead singer has some talent but I think it gets lost in some of his ego and antics emerging on stage. At first I was wondering why if he wants to wear a cape on stage he doesn’t get a real one instead of the colorful jacket with arms sticking out to the side.
    Finally when they did the whole throw an apple at the golden teddy bear thing I realized they fancy themselves as comedians not just damned good rock and rollers.
    I mean the whole black vanity towel on the head routine in 05 and humid heat was a labor of love no doubt. Their true followers must dig it. I just came for the music.

    The guys from Wilco were more no nonsense and polished, they too were putting out some great wailing guitar in the style of the great rockers like Neil and Petty, someone said even the lead guitarist has one of Dwaine Almann’s old guitars. These guys are definately on their game, I mean for third generation rock and roll, it was like stepping in a time machine for me, I kid from the 70′s who missed out on the real thing really.
    I don’t know the name of the song but it was actually almost like a musical magic trick. A great song melodically floating along in the style of someone like Neil Young, and then without warning a change as if you were listening to a record and it suddenly skipped onto something more electronic and computer generated. It was mind bending, and I thought to my self that Neil would have appreciated it in it’s experimental nature. it wasn’t something easily done, they might have found it out on Highway sixteee-one……

    Of course, I was only there to get close to Bob and I did, on the rail in Mansfield,
    His work on stage is riveting, what will he do, how will he move, what is he wearing, the hat, not the hat. Is he going to play a lot of Harp, a lot of piano, will he ever pick up the guitar again, will he invite the other boys on stage? it’s always the little things about Bob’s shows that keep you coming back for more.
    Highlights for me were the version of Tangled up in Blue so thoughtful and sincere, and Soon after Midnite, Beyond Here Lies Nothing is a great live song that always pleases it has a really funky beat.
    All along the Watch Tower is performed with a lot of energy and gets your body moving.
    All in all 3 hours of straight dancing and I would do it again every night if there wasn’t the day job to go to. Maybe the fans should write the reviews and just get to the point without all the bickering… haha.

  • Evan Serpick

    If you read closely, it’s clear he meant “appealing,” just as it says – he’s saying it’s Cline’s guitar that made the song appealing, enjoyable, not Tweedy:

    “It wasn’t Tweedy’s high-school-poetry lyrics nor his
    repeating-ad-nauseum, sing-song melody that made the song so appealing.
    It was the never-predictable sound pouring out of Nels Cline’s
    doublenecked guitar, which helpfully obscured the words and added the
    missing dramatic tension to the music.”

  • pjk

    You nailed it bcks. MMJ and and to a somewhat lesser extent, Wilco employed the wall of sound to cover lack of musical interest. Wilco -each song ended in a jam sounding very similar to the others, technically very good but lacking soul. Dylan was amazing and his vocals built strength through the performance. I found his ever changing arrangements energizing and great examples of song smithing, unlike the boxed sound of the first two acts. Interesting to see significant number of folks leaving before Dylan was done- once they turned the volume down I guess it wasn’t music anymore to them. What a treasure Bob is- good health and a long life to him and his band!. I went with 3 of my 6 daughters 19,21, and 27- they pretty much concur with the old man’s assessment.

  • joe

    This review is so incredibly off base that I am virtually speechless. Calling Jeff Tweedy a weak link is comical. Perhaps you can cath the next the NIcki Minaj or Foriegner reunion concert. Will be more up your alley.

  • ugh

    Two dinosaurs who know nothing about the current state of music, complaining about the “noise” of MMJ and Wilco… Probably the same thing your parents said about Led Zeppelin and Neil Young. Dylan chose to tour with these bands for a reason. Its probably better that you didn’t actually listen to either of their sets; If you did, you would’ve had to go to the bathroom to change your Depends Diapers…

  • TD

    I find it perplexing and disheartening that some of you consider yourselves such Dylan fans but had never heard of MMJ or Wilco – two bands that have been around for nearly 20 years. These aren’t new, flavor-of-the-week acts – they’re Americana mainstays. Dylan chose them b/c they are two of the best bands of the last 15-20 years. Get with the program.