With Wallflowers, Palace Theater, Albany, New York (USA) - Feb. 23rd, 1997

by Seth Rogovoy

(ALBANY, N.Y., Feb. 23, 1997) -- Those attending the Sheryl Crow/Wallflowers concert at the Palace Theatre on Saturday night got a special treat. As it turned out, this was the last show the Wallflowers were opening for Crow on her current tour, and the performers were not about to allow the transition to pass unnoticed.

It became clear early on that this would not be an ordinary concert, when at the peak of the Wallflowers' set, while Jakob Dylan was singing the group's Grammy-nominated hit, "6th Avenue Heartache," a baton- twirling cheerleader came out from the wings and tried to distract Dylan. She succeeded in eliciting smiles from most of the band members, if not instant recognition from the sold-out crowd, which was odd, because the cheerleader was Sheryl Crow herself.

Dylan got her back when he raced across the stage later on in the evening during her "Na-Na Song." But more than these good-natured hi- jinks, what transformed the evening into a stunning, extraordinary night of nearly historic proportions was an entirely spontaneous, improvised jam session at the end featuring the Wallflowers and Crow's band recapitulating the history of rock with songs by the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Velvet Underground, The Band and others. A surprise appearance by Jim Weider, The Band's current guitarist, only added to the thrill of seeing a guy named Dylan singing tunes by a group that was once his father's backup band. And the sight of Dylan and Crow trading verses and sharing a mike on the choruses of "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" and "The Weight" evoked memories of similar scenes featuring his father with earlier folk-pop madonnas such as Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell.

This climax -- the sort of spectacle you usually hear about happening in New York or Los Angeles but never out on the road in a place like Albany -- came as icing on the cake after what was already two, stirring sets by fast-rising stars of the contemporary rock scene -- both incidentally going into Wednesday night's Grammy Awards with nominations.

Crow acquitted herself well, converting skeptics who might have dismissed her as just another manufactured, blonde goddess in skin- tight black velvet. She boasts good stage presence and a dynamic, versatile voice not always apparent on her recordings. Her material draws on a wide range of influences, some contemporary but most rooted in '60s and '70s rock and pop, in addition to folk, blues, soul and country, but she processes it all through her own blender, giving it a unique and accessible feel while maintaining some of the edges of the source material. It is both her strength and her weakness, but it makes for some incredibly catchy pop music, including her recent hits, "Every Day Is a Winding Road" and "If It Makes You Happy."

Except for a couple of morbid ballads that killed her momentum, Crow performed a well-paced, upbeat set which saw her playing acoustic and electric guitars and keyboards, and her band provided evocative backup and harmonies. Her anthems were outspoken in both their self-assertion and their political content, yet tempered by an air of vulnerability in her vocals.

Jakob Dylan, the singer, songwriter, guitarist and all-around frontman of the Wallflowers, was a charismatic presence. A darker, more chiseled version of his father, he led his bandmates through a set of his gloomy, mid-tempo rockers that recall late-'70s Springsteen as much as anything his dad ever did. While he shares his father's nasal rasp, his voice is deeper and also recalls Springsteen and Keith Richards. What the group's set lacked in variety it more than made up for in its intensity and in its careful exploration of its sound: dark, soulful, rootsy and subtly explosive.

In all, it was an exhilarating, memorable concert, full of peaks and valleys, chunky riffs and funky grooves, timeless melodies and cutting- edge textures, tied together by two young stars who, each standing with one foot firmly rooted in the past and one most definitely in the present, hold out great promise for rock 'n' roll's future.

[This review originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on Feb. 25, 1997. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 1997. All rights reserved.]

 

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