with Holly McNarland
House Of Blues, Orlando • 11.6.97
Downtown Disney Westside made its official debut recently with a star-studded party that included free booze and victuals. Besides the names that were haphazardly tacked on for marquee value, performances by Trisha Yearwood, Meredith Brooks, Sister Hazel, and Olive were among the acts that raved it up in short sets on the main stage.
But a truly dynamic full-length show went down inside the House Of Blues, where the stage is nice and low; where you can really link up with a performer.
Holly McNarland has a voice with the power of a jet taking off, and she sliced it through the middle of the songs in her band’s set. Slight of stature but slinging her guitar with blessed assurance, Holly excused herself for wanting to do a cover and then launched into a blistering rendition of Phil Collins’ “In The Air Tonight.” Though the floor was sparse and many on the sides of the music hall seemed to be engaged in other activities — it seems that every head raised to consider this diminutive lass wail and wage holy war with the song. Damn. Is that going on the album?
Soon, the floor packed in and the curtains parted ways to reveal The Wallflowers walking out on stage. Jakob Dylan looked natty, wearing an olive suit and black tie. With a glance towards drummer Mario Calire, the group broke into the Rod Stewart classic “Tonight’s The Night” and then tore into “Ashes To Ashes,” from their first album. Mic levels on Jakob were low, but one could still make out his easy-going tones that traded space with the evil Michael Ward on guitar. Bald and kinetic — that’s this guy, beating out clean sugary chords one moment and then stirring up a feedback stew the next. Keyboardist Rami Jaffee coaxed resonant bubbles of sound out of a ancient Hammond that made up part of his block. Without so much as a burp in between songs, bassist Greg Richling led the band into “One Headlight” before anyone had a chance to recognize the chord changes.
Here, Jakob stopped being so laid-back and let loose the powerful wail that, sorry purists, puts his old man to shame. After dropping the platinum song on the crowd like a gold boulder, Dylan smiled and looked at the front row of freaked-out women. “I have the distinct feeling that not everyone here bought tickets,” he said with a wry tone and then with a guitar change, kicked into “Bleeders” and the new single “Three Marlenas.” Ward stepped forward for several nail-biting solos and then passed the ball to Jaffee, whose playing style can be summed up in one word: liquid. For the bulk of the show, only pedal and pump organs were used, contributing to the vintage nature of the band’s tunes.
Though Jakob didn’t move around much, he seemed to finally open up and begin to enjoy himself with “Sixth Avenue Heartache” (was that a smile, Mr. Dylan?) and “Laughing Out Loud.” Media parties are regularly suit-affairs, political bullshit and glad-handing. “Welcome to Planet Hollywood,” cracked Jakob, scanning the upper levels of execs and their guests. “That was a joke, I know exactly where we are — ” But once he realized that there were truly fans on-hand, the veneer fell away and the performer came on with a vengeance. At one point, a lady made her way on-stage and was pulled away by a burly stage tech. During a break in songs, she actually got Dylan to come forward and agree to another shot at it for picture’s sake.
After covering “Tracks Of My Tears” and rocking out “The Difference,” the band cleared the stage, and then encored with “Josephine” and “Cadillacs,” during which the self-effacing Jakob made sure each of his band had the chance to be appreciated in their own spotlight. The only drawback to the entire show was barely being able to hear the poetic Dylan’s vocals over the razor-edge backing of the band — but the trade-off, I suppose, is being able to look up and notice that a performer is actually looking at you, inviting a shared moment or two. Often looking out into the crowd, Dylan seemed to do just that, using the concert as a chance to connect with the people who buy the records.
And to rock the house, of course.