Friday, July 26, 2013

The Americanarama Festival @ DTE


The Americanarama Festival

Featuring …

Bob Dylan and the Womb from Which All Things Appear


English bluesmeister Richard Thompson opened the show with an unexpected bang. Folks were still drifting in when Thompson was at the end of his near-perfect reading of British blues that mirrored back our own heritage with a gusto that was truly infectious. The band was in fine form and Thompson’s guitar work was magnificent. His expressive baritone was reminiscent of a young Peter Green singing Shake Your Moneymaker in a most naught way, f-word and all. He played his big hit “Good Things Happen to Bad People. Thompson is a monster guitar player and the rhythm section was tight as they come. The drummer could beat the skins double time and then some. His setlist included “You Can’t Win”, a mid-tempo gripe about people, lovers and betrayal ” that turned into an extended jam that allowed each member to shine. Thompson guitar work was more than just pickin’ rapid fire notes, it involved a healthy experimentation with sounds like a modern day Jimi Hendrix.


My Morning Jacket was next up. I reviewed their show at Bonnaroo a few years back and though I appreciated their craft, I felt their extended sound excursions meandered a bit, This time around they were in the pocket with great songs that were almost pocket symphonies that Brian Wilson created during the late sixties when acid and booze fueled the creative process. This is a band that knows what they want to do and their energy comes out at you like a volcano erupting. The vocalist Jim James is simply a jaw-dropping great singer. He has a other-worldly tenor that can reach the stratosphere higher then Eagles fly. He ranks right up there with Freddie Mercury, Howard Kaylan and Brian Wilson as rock’s greatest singers. This band talks no prisoners, you better pay attention and follow closely or they will leave you behind wondering what in the hell just happened. The music is complicated and impressive with tempo changes, inverted chords, genre hopping, wordless harmonies, synthesized washes, use of vibrato and saxophone. They performed several of their well-known songs including Evil Urges, Touch Me I’m going to Scream Part 1 & 2 (incredible), and Gideon

Wilco had the difficult task of following MMJ’s triumphant set. So they did what only they can do, stick to their roots and vision with an almost perfect set of Americana music. They performed one great song after another from their impressive catalog of music. Though they were based in Illinois they created an eclectic body of music that could be labeled country rock, Indie or modern alt-rock. The leader is Jeff Tweedy, a true student of the game. He is able to grapple with other genres yet always sound like Wilco. His ironic lyrics and humor (kidding on the square) give Wilco an edge that is quite welcoming, like they are bringing you into an inner circle of like-minded artisans that hope to overthrow the stasis inflicted by the wrongdoers who run this country. Handshake is an incredibly lucid song about drugs and a blurred sense of identity. The angst is captured by the sloppy slide accents and sneaky saxophone that leads to an extended nuclear jam. I’m Trying to Break Your Heart is filled with synth accents, organ washes and guitar. Tweedy sings about relationship that ends badly,

This is not a joke

So just stop smiling

What was I thinking

When I said hello

I fell asleep

But the city

Was still blinking

What was I thinking

When I let you go



Don’t Forget the Flowers is a cool country shuffle that seems to be buck Owens-inspired. The guitarist no-doubt was influenced by Don Rich. This is a back-to-the-roots song and Tweedy does his best baritone reading. Impossible Germany was another Tweedy classic with several complicated guitar runs that were note perfect soaring to the heavens with the e-string and then descending to mother earth that segued to an extended jam that was scaffolded with open tuning and inverted chords.  Via Chicago is a humble masterwork with great lyrics and a quiet lapsteel that suddenly erupts into a frightening   cacophony of sound and light that overtakes the simple arrangement and brings it to a higher level of artistry. California Stars is one of the highlights of the set. It’s a country two-step sung perfectly by Tweedy. He sings like he’s having a conversation in the living room with a few old friends. In the third verse A B-3  washes over the song and gives it a bluesy vibe.

But the highlight of the entire evening was their extended psychedelic reading of the Beatles masterpiece Tomorrow Never Knows, a Lennon song inspired by The Book of the Dead.  Richard Thompson and the members of My Morning Jacket joined-in to give it a real communal feel. The crowd was both stunned and grateful to witness this off-the-charts reading of a legendary song at the deep end of the Beatles’ catalog. Tweedy is a genius!

Bob Dylan and his Band ended the show with a thud. His band is composed with top-notch musicians and Dylan seemed to be in step with his band as he switched between piano, guitar and harp. Only thing is …Dylan cannot sing at all or even speak above a whisper.  He never addressed the audience directly or indirectly as if it didn’t matter that we were there or if we were listening. His voice is shot, ravaged by time and constant touring. His segment was the nadir of the night. Dylan needs to retire from live performances before he ruins his legacy and his ragged genius becomes fodder for the critics. It did not matter that he performed such great songs as She Belongs to Me, Tangled Up in Blue, Blowin’ in the Wind, A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall or All Along the Watchtower when he sounds more like a croaking bullfrog with a sore throat. At this stage in his life he must be touring for a reason, maybe he’s broke and busted and maybe, just maybe he could be taking his never ending tour to the ends of the earth where time stands still and he can finally rest from his flight from ennui.  And His labor will be over…

No comments:

Post a Comment