Photo for the Star Tribune by Courtney Perry


It must be the genes.

How else can we explain the fact that Jackson Browne has had the exact same hairdo since we first discovered him in 1972? How else can we explain that Jakob Dylan is vocally sounding more and more like Bob Dylan in his heyday?
Browne and Dylan, fronting the Wallflowers, were in Minneapolis over the weekend for separate concerts. Here are reports.

Wallflowers, Saturday, First Avenue.

Thank you Jack Irons. He just landed in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year for his work with the Red Hot Chili Peppers. He’s also played with Pearl Jam and Joe Strummer. And now he’s joined the Wallflowers. And, thanks to Irons, the band has never sounded better.

There was a crackle and crispness to this 20-year-old Los Angeles band, which is on tour promoting its first album (“Glad All Over”) in seven years (They took a hiatus, as Dylan made two solo albums and keyboardist Rami Jaffee joined Foo Fighters.). Fittingly, the band took the stage as Dave Clark Five’s “Glad All Over” played on the PA. It may have seemed an obvious ploy but it worked.

The opening “Devil’s Waltz,” a dark, swirling rocker, sounded like it could have been from Bob Dylan’s new “Tempest,” and the ensuing “Three Marlenas,” a Wallflowers tune from 1996, sounded positively Springsteen-like. The new “Reboot the Mission” was a tip of the hat to the Clash, both in lyrics and sound (the Clash’s Mick Jones played on the recording).

If Irons is the band’s MVP, guitarist Stuart Mathis, the Nashville outlier in this L.A. ensemble, deserves credit for his versatile solos that helped define nearly every song. The work of these two players seemed to spark Dylan’s singing, which was particularly passionate on “One Headlight,” “6th Avenue Heartache” and “It Won’t Be Long.”

Unlike his dad, Dylan was gregarious and playful, asking various concertgoers about their Halloween-party costumes and polling them to see who had attended the Wallflowers first gig 20 years ago at the Fine Line.

Next to me at the concert was perhaps the Wallflowers’ oldest fan. Harriet said she would turn 90 this year, and she was the best friend of Jakob’s Great Aunt Irene in Hibbing. “I remember when he was born,” she told me between songs. “I was at his bar mitzvah.” She called him “classy.” What did she think of the show? “Wonderful,” she said with a smile.

Jackson Browne, Sunday, State Theatre.

At 64, Browne has that familiar hairdo, the familiar warm, sensitive (but deeper) voice and that same periwnkle blue shirt he’s worn several times in the Twin Cities in recent years.

He said this was his “solo acoustic tour” but that was a bit of a misnomer because he was backed by a drummer and electric guitarist and often by one, two or three members of the opening act (Sara Watkins). Browne jokingly dubbed his backup band the Embarrassment of Riches.

The backup musicians added much-needed texture and variety to a repertoire that can grow a little sleepy. Browne is more intellectual than energetic. And his free-wheeling solo shows can become a bit disconcerting because he operates without a set list, calling audibles (often accommodating shouted requests from his fans) for the next song. For someone with such a thoughtful collection of material, this unprepared approach can prevent the evening from having a sense of purpose and momentum.

Browne clearly understands the issue. That’s why after he fulfilled a request for the apolitical “I Am a Patriot,” obviously timely and accented with red, white and blue lights, he immediately followed with the apropos “Looking East,” which haunted like “The Ode to Billie Joe.”

Watkins’ fiddle and vocal harmonies elevated “Running on Empty,” “Take It Easy” and “For a Dancer,” one of the night’s best numbers. Other highlights in the 115-minute set included the dark, bluesy “Too Many Angels,” “The Pretender” with Browne’s rolling piano and a kick-butt rhythm section and the passionate “Fountain of Sorrow.”

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