Better Than: Most three-day music festivals
Six hours on the Hoboken Pier may not sound like the ideal Friday evening, but Ryan Bingham, Wilco, My Morning Jacket and Bob Dylan made the trip worthwhile for thousands of fans last night. Kicking off around 5 p.m., the Live Nation-backed Americanarama tour stopped in New Jersey for one of two dates in the area this weekend, the second taking place tonight at Jones Beach. But last night’s setting couldn’t have been more perfect, as the four artists played through the evening, flanked by the Manhattan skyline and a beautiful sunset.
Leading up to Bob Dylan’s headlining performance, the most common topic of discussion among the crowd seemed to be his voice. The consensus among longtime fans was that it just isn’t what is used to be, barely discernible more often than not, but his presence, still just as striking as it was 40 years ago. After watching some YouTube videos from recent stops on the tour, I’d already lowered my expectations, but was still hopeful for a glimpse of the old Dylan. Even though there were four bands on the bill, most everyone I spoke with, young and old, told me they’d come specifically to see him.
In fact, it was somewhat surprising to meet so many people who were unfamiliar with the three other artists. Grammy-winner Ryan Bingham opened the show as the crowd was still trickling in, followed by southern rockers My Morning Jacket, who only seem to be gaining in popularity. Between solo dates and full-band performances, lead singer Jim James has played in the area around half a dozen times in the past year.
During My Morning Jacket’s set, a small group of dedicated fans gathered near the stage, reciting lyrics and reflecting the energy of James’ passionate vocals. Known for their sprawling three-hour performances, the band condensed their catalog into an hour-long set, which drew from nearly every album. During “Victory Dance,” James stumbled around on stage in a cape with his face partly masked by a towel, and for their last song, Bingham came back onstage for an inspiring rendition of The Band’s “Don’t Do It.”
Considering Wilco adheres more to folk and alt-country than southern rock, it was impressive to see them keep up the same energy as My Morning Jacket. To the delight of longtime fans like myself, most of their set drew from Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and A Ghost Is Born. Ian Hunter from Mott the Hoople joined the band on stage for two songs, including the closer “All the Young Dudes,” which seemed all the more epic with a loud, drunken crowd sing-along.
Finally, it was time for the man of the evening. Kicking off with “Things Have Changed,” Dylan skulked around the stage for three songs before even picking up a guitar. Wearing a black suit and tie, he almost seemed to be emulating the goth bluesman look that Nick Cave pulls off so well. It took a little while for his voice to warm up, but at about the halfway mark, when he dipped into “Tangled Up In Blue,” the crowd grew more responsive and Dylan turned up the energy.
By the time he got to “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,” most everyone in the crowd was sold on the performance and the crowd sing-along returned. Dylan’s voice occasionally sounds like one dull raspy moan, but there are times throughout his performance where you get a glimpse of the talent that used to be, which is enough to sustain a fan through a 16-song set. With joyful expressions affixed to their faces, Jeff Tweedy and Jim James joined Dylan for a cover of The Band’s “The Weight” (video above), before the set winded down with “All Along the Watchtower” and “Ballad of a Thin Man.”
Though Dylan’s voice improved as the night went on, I talked to several younger fans who couldn’t help but consider what it would have been like to see him back in the ’60s or ’70s. Personally, I was just appreciative I got to see him perform at all. With Dylan, Jagger and McCartney all aging past 70 now, it’s important to get out and see these people while you still can. Dylan may not have McCartney’s voice or Jagger’s energy, but after last night’s impressive performance, I can safely say he’s still a mandatory concert experience for any rock fan.
Critical Bias: My dad hates Dylan so I am predisposed to being a giant fan.
Overheard: “Wesley Snipes was a fuckin’ amateur!”