Photo by Chad Anderson
The most coveted ticket this summer turned out to be the 26-stop tour billed as the “AmericanaramA Festival of Music” featuring Bob Dylan and his Band, Wilco, and My Morning Jacket. Bob Weir (solo acoustic), the Richard Thompson Electric Trio, and Ryan Bingham joined the tour, respectively, in select cities. Eclectic musician Beck was also on hand when he filled in for MMJ at Jones Beach (frontman Jim James was scheduled to perform at the Newport Folk Festival on that date).
Although none of these bands can be classified strictly as “Americana,” they each played plenty of tunes to fit the wide-embracing genre. With lyric-god Bob Dylan at the hub, this was in reality, a gathering of some of the most critically acclaimed songwriters and musicians working today. Weir, Thompson, Bingham, Wilco, and MMJ have covered Dylan songs numerous times in the past and the potential for collaborating with Dylan was there, but in true form, he shunned expectations and joined in on only a few songs during the duration of the tour.
This was not necessarily a disappointing thing, because on most stops, either Wilco or My Morning Jacket called out friends and tour-mates to join them on stage. A few of the surprising walk-on performers included Trampled By Turtles, Feist, Low, Dawes’ Taylor Goldsmith, Sean Lennon, Peter Wolf (formerly of the J. Geils Band), and Jackson Browne.
The diverse guest collaborations ranged from loveliness to the offbeat. In Saratoga, NY keyboardist Garth Hudson of The Band, joined Wilco on “California Stars,” and “Long Black Veil.” Jim James came out during Hudson’s organ solo “Genetic Method” and shared vocals and guitar with them on “Chest Fever.” Although Hudson has a history with Dylan, they did not perform together. In Hoboken, NJ, Wilco brought out Mott the Hoople’s Ian Hunter, Warren Haynes, MMJ, and Ryan Bingham to perform the David Bowie song and Hoople hit “All the Young Dudes.” In a bizarre twist, Nancy Sinatra sang Cher’s “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)” and “These Boots Were Made for Walking” with Wilco in Irvine, CA. Maybe her father’s Hoboken roots somehow inspired that idea. Bob Weir jumped back on as a guest for the last show of the tour in Mountain View, CA. Weir jammed with MMJ on “I Know You Rider,” “Brown-Eyed Woman,” and Dylan’s “Knockin on Heaven’s Door.” He also helped out Wilco on “Ripple,” “Dark Star/California Stars,” and “St. Stephen.” MMJ and Ryan Bingham joined Wilco and Weir for the tour finale of Dylan’s “When I Paint My Masterpiece.”
At the July 19 Bridgeport, CT concert, the region was experiencing record-breaking heat and humidity and the show was mercifully moved from the ball park stadium to an indoor venue next door. Raspy-voiced opener Ryan Bingham stayed closest to the Americana theme with the country blues ballads and foot stompers “Beg for Broken Legs,” “Southside of Heaven,” “Sunshine,” “Depression,” “Hallelujah,” and “Too Deep to Fill.” Bingham’s talented fiddle player, Richard Bowden, dueled with him throughout the short set.
My Morning Jacket stopped you in your tracks with an electrifying performance of their gorgeous anthems “Wordless Chorus,” “Gideon,” the hypnotic “Circuital,” and “The Way That He Sings.” Jim James’ skyrocketing vocals and the bands high-octane energy let the brilliance of each song speak for itself. Lush textures and a barrage of chords could be heard on “Masterplan,” “Victory Dance,” “Heartbreakin Man,” “Butch Cassidy,” and “Touch Me I’m Going to Scream (Parts 1 and 2).” Frontman Jim James deeply connected with the audience as he roamed about the stage and filled the air with his stunning voice. James kindly gave a wincing front row Dylan fan, unfamiliar with MMJ, a handful of earplugs to better appreciate their cosmic artillery. When the set ended, a spontaneous and enthusiastic standing ovation swept through the hot venue. As one hard-core fan stated “best live band in the land.”
The same could be said for Wilco. There are similarities between Wilco and MMJ: the well-crafted songs, originality, fearless experimentation, sudden shifts from gentle to blasts of instrumental freak-outs, and each band has a genius on guitar (Wilco’s Nels Cline and MMJ’s Carl Broemel). Jeff Tweedy started the set off playing his “Bob” acoustic Gibson guitar with Cline on pedal steel for “(Was I) In Your Dreams,” followed by “When the Roses Bloom Again,” and “Forget the Flowers.” Fan favorites included “Misunderstood,” “One Wing,” “Radio Cure,” “Impossible Germany,” “I’m the Man Who Loves You,” and recent hits “Art of Almost” and “Born Alone.” Tweedy brought out the Brooklyn indie duo Lucius for vocals on “Nothing’severgonnastandinmyway(again),” “California Stars,” and The Kinks gem “Waterloo Sunset,” which they performed with Wilco at their recent Solid Sound Festival.
When Dylan appeared, the multi-generational crowd on the arena floor surged forward to get a closer look at the enigmatic legend. Dylan is still hitting his stride with his one-of-a-kind performance style and top notch backing band. Rotating guitar players Charlie Sexton and Colin Linden have replaced Duke Robillard for the remainder of the tour. Dylan stood, with guitar in hand, smiling, swaying, and engaging with the audience for the opener “Things Have Changed” followed by “Love Sick,” and “High Water (for Charlie Patton).” From his latest album Tempest, came the lively “Duquesne Whistle,” and a swinging “Early Roman Kings.” With his dramatic inflection, Dylan sang crowd pleasers “Tangled Up In Blue,” “She Belongs to Me,” “Beyond Here Lies Nothin,” “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,” and “Simple Twist of Fate.” After the country blues song “Blind Willie McTell,” Jeff Tweedy and Jim James came out and played acoustic guitar and sang on the jumping “Thunder on the Mountain” and the Blind Willie Johnson number “Let Your Light Shine On Me.” Dylan’s brilliant reconfigured arrangements on the encore songs “All Along the Watchtower” and “Blowin’ in the Wind” proved a song can, and should, evolve along with the man who wrote it.