American Band Stand — Bob Dylan, Wilco and My Morning Jacket a triumphant trio
BY MARK GUARINO Music Writer July 14, 2013 2:12PM
Bob Dylan (shown performing earier this month in Duluth, Minn.) turned in an inspired set Friday night at Toyota Park in Bridgeview. | AP
BOB DYLAN SET LIST
‘Things Have Changed’
‘High Water (For Charley Patton)’
‘Soon After Midnight’
‘Early Roman Kings’
‘Tangled Up in Blue’
‘Duquesne Whistle ‘
‘She Belongs to Me’
‘Beyond Here Lies Nothin’’
‘A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall’
‘Blind Willie McTell’
‘Simple Twist of Fate’
‘Thunder on the Mountain’
‘All Along the Watchtower’
‘Ballad of a Thin Man’
My Morning Jacket set list
‘Slow Slow Tune’
‘Phone Went West’
‘One Big Holiday’
Wilco set list
‘At My Window Sad and Lonely’
‘When the Roses Bloom Again’
‘Art of Almost’
‘That’s Not the Issue’
‘Dawned on Me’
Updated: July 14, 2013 6:35PM
Did it matter that a tour titled “Americanarama” took place in a soccer stadium named after a Japanese automaker?
Not really. What defines Americana is the never-ending conversation among culture curators: Is it primitive? Can it be modern? Is hip-hop included? What about Toby Keith?
The artists on the Americanarama bill this summer didn’t help the debate. If anything the undercurrent connecting Wilco, My Morning Jacket, and yes, Bob Dylan, is a consistent desire to shed skins, collaborate, reach backward while driving full steam ahead.
The tour, a nearly six-hour affair that stopped Friday at Toyota Park in Bridgeview, split the first two bands into 75-minute sets each, followed by Dylan who played for 90 minutes. The stadium, headquarters for the Chicago Fire, proved too large for the bill, however, but became an advantage for fans who wanted to cram close to the stage, or not wait in line for anything a nearly six-hour evening might require.
Dylan’s 15-song set was the first completely past sundown, which meant large studio lights above cast his band in dramatic spotlights that fit the mystery imbued in the music. Dylan and band have long recast his songbook through a rotating stream of musical styles, but lately those sensibilities have been stripped so close to the bone you could feel the shavings: “Early Roman Kings” became the starkest 12-bar blues imaginable, with guitarist Charlie Sexton wrangling a solo out of a single note. “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,” a song now in its 50th year, likewise plodded forward, with Dylan teasing the audience that wanted to join him in singing the chorus by choosing to pause between each “hard” long enough to make them lose their place.
Dylan stuck close to his keyboard where he added stomping rhythm, and sometimes a few runs, but he also spent a considerable amount of time squared off in front the band, facing the audience with a harmonica and microphone. He struck numerous gunslinger poses, which fit the consistent old-time filter of the music. “Blind Willie McTell” was recast as an ancient-sounding folk song driven by banjo, while even “All Along the Watchtower” became unfamiliar, with Dylan choosing to sing the lyrics by the rhythm, and not melody, of the music. Dodging expectations throughout, Dylan and his band committed to making sure the songs continued to sound earthy and relevant.
Wilco’s set started with a nod directed at Woody Guthrie, whose 101st birthday was Sunday. The two songs, “At My Window Sad and Lonely” and “When the Roses Bloom Again,” were from the band’s posthumous collaboration with the most American of songwriters, which led to a set that spanned its 19-year career. Spinning between the band’s early country-rock incarnation and current inclination for groove-based pop, Wilco’s set did not ever stay in one place for long.
For audience members who missed the 30-minute opening set by Richard Thompson earlier in the evening due to traffic gridlock, Wilco did them a favor by summoning Thompson — one of the most inventive guitarists and songwriters in decades — back to the stage for three songs, including “California Stars” and “That’s Not the Issue.”
The highlight of the entire evening became witnessing Thompson matched against Wilco guitarist Nels Cline during “Sloth,” a song from Fairport Convention, the British band that launched the folk-rock movement in their country. During several interludes, Thompson’s restraint and precision was set against Cline’s more feisty inclinations. Both players flung flinty arpeggio runs against each other, the sum of which became a lengthy interplay of contrasting improvisation.
Later, My Morning Jacket joined Wilco for a cover of Neil Young’s “Cinnamon Girl,” the night’s requisite multiple guitar blowout. Jim James won the medal for most engaging frontman of the evening — and not just because he donned a cape, bounded across the stage, and honked on a saxophone. As a singer, James packs serious power in his voice, from the high falsetto whoops of “Wordless Chorus” to the more subdued crooning of “Golden.”
One revelation made obvious by this bill that, like Dylan before them, the contribution Wilco and My Morning Jacket are making to the American songbook is significant, maybe not appreciated now, but definitely in years ahead.
Mark Guarino is a Chicago journalist. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.