Jakob Dylan at SXSW 2010. Photo by Tony Nelson
At age 40, Jakob Dylan is trying to reinvent himself.
He used to lead the Wallflowers, a roots-rock group that tried to suggest a modern-day version of the Band. On Tuesday at the Fitzgerald, with Jakob Dylan and Three Legs, he was a modern Dust Bowl troubadour, a prairie crooner chronicling these hard times. Think of Bruce Springsteen in a “Tom Joad” mode backed by an understated alt-country band, with arrangements by T Bone Burnett.
Recalling his famous father more than ever in both visage and sound, Dylan focused on material from his two solo CDs, 2008’s “Seeing Things” and this year’s “Women + Country.”
He sang these mostly bleak songs with a sometimes seething intensity, but the songs suffered from a sameness of tone and tempo (slow or med-tempo).
Thankfully, he varied the textures with his fine if occasionally tentative band, starring expressive pedal steel guitarist Jon Rauhouse and splendid background vocalists Neko Case and Kelly Hogan (stars in their own right who could have been given more time in the spotlight; Neko was terrifically twangy and Kelly sang with golden-throated power).
Dylan did pick up the tempo on the closing “They’ve Trapped Us Boys,” which gamboled with the festive if loose feel of Springsteen’s Seeger Sessions band. Other highlights were the despairingly haunting “We Don’t Live Here Anymore” and “Smile When You Call me That,” a true duet during which Dylan’s and Case’s voices intertwined like whiskey and water.
In the 95-minute set, Dylan offered only two Wallflowers tunes – “6th Avenue Heartache” with the pedal steel playing the usual organ part and lovely female backup vocals, and “Three Marlenas,” which strutted to a “Sweet Jane” beat.
Before “6th Avenue Heartache,” Dylan chided a woman in the front row for breaking the unwritten rules of concertgoing. Presumably, she was talking on her cellphone. She did leave during the song and returned before it was over.
On a cheerier note, Dylan, who spent considerable portions of his youth in his father’s home state, tried to clarify things. “I’m not actually from here,” he said. “I’m L.A. to the bone. But my heart is out here in Minnesota. I guess I’m saying I’ll be whatever you need.”
Maybe we need a few more uptempo songs and a couple more true duets with Case and/or Hogan, perhaps covers from the Gram Parsons/Emmylou Harris catalogue. Maybe next time.
Here is Dylan’s set list:
Nothing But the Whole Wide World/ Everybody’s Hurting/ Standing Eight Count/ Smile When You Call Me That/ Holy Rollers for Love/ 6th Avenue Heartache/ Evil Is Alive/ We Don’t Live Here Anymore/ War Is Kind/ Three Marlenas/ All Day and All Night/ Something Good This Way Comes / Will It Grow/ Down on Our Own Shield/ Everybody Pays as They Go/ Lend a Hand ENCORE On UP the Mountain/ They’ve Trapped Us Boys