"The beauty parlor is filled with sailors, The circus is in town."
I always get worked up for a Dylan show! I never pace myself and I peak way too early, I know it. So, what’s your point?
What’s a guy to do when the thread of continuity that ties together everything from the existentialists to Woody Guthrie and the beats to that weird old America of tricksters, con men, preachers, and poets is coming to town?
Get his game face on, that’s what! Especially if the bard in question is arriving as part of a traveling circus featuring performers the likes of Wilco, My Morning Jacket, and Ryan Bingham. And that’s what happened when the much-heralded "AmericanaramA" tour with Bob Dylan headlining stopped in Salt Lake last Thursday.
Of course, with or without the quite-exceptional undercard, the sideshows that normally surround this particular Main Event are most always circus worthy. Dylan, an eccentric in his own right, attracts the freaks and the singular and the hipsters and the peculiar among the musical tribe present company included!
For a poet and musician who’s been able to weave together some of the more memorable characters ever to appear in popular culture, not to mention possessing one of the more original minds of the 20th century, Dylan remains a nasally-challenged and profound performer with a multi-generational following that, while not huge, never seems to diminish.
So, it was no surprise when the likes of Jeff Tweedy (Wilco), Jim James (MMJ), and Ryan Bingham all jumped at the chance to join a tour headlined by one of their major heroes and, even though Dylan is an admittedly acquired taste, quite possibly the most iconic performing artist ever.
And there he was, proving once again that no one gives better Bob than Bob, our ever-so-quirky and adorable songster-laureate laying out a 90-minute set to put the cap on a 6-hour-plus afternoon and evening of pure rock-n-roll, much of it, to be sure, of the Americana genre.
First off was Ryan Bingham who, for some reason, probably an ill-figured time constraint of some sort, was allowed only 30 minutes on stage. His gritty and soulful set would transcend that timeframe, however.
I’ll never forget my first impression of Bingham in person. I’d never heard of him and Teri Orr was doing her emcee shtick explaining to the quite-small crowd in the Eccles Center that his appearance was part of a new Park City Performing Arts Foundation commitment to bring promising artists with little or no name recognition to their stage.
So here was this rail-thin denim and boot clad guitar man with a voice probably no more than three octaves lower than Sam Elliott’s exhibiting an emotional range that brought to mind Edith Piaf. I may have exaggerated to make a point there. Suffice to say, his set dropped a few jaws that night!
But it wasn’t all that long before the true breadth of Bingham’s talent would emerge. Soon he had a prominent role in the film Crazy Heart starring Jeff Bridges and, in the blink of a songwriter’s eye, was standing beside T-Bone Burnett accepting the Oscar for writing "The Weary Kind" from the same film. This guy bears watching!!
Although I’d spent more than a few pre-show hours searching out the online catalogue of My Morning Jacket, other than a long-ago Austin City Limits collaboration with Conor Oberst, I’d never really paid that much attention to their music. Catching their stage performance proved an excellent introduction, however.
Wilco I had seen probably a half-dozen times, but as their music traveled further and further from the "Uncle Tupelo" template Jeff Tweedy had originally created during the birth of "Alternative Country," more and more space was created between myself and their ever-expanding art.
Not that their set wasn’t totally riveting. Tweedy’s songwriting has always been more than well crafted and his interpretations of his own work are, for the most part, to die for. But it was his band’s collaboration with MMJ, an over-the-top psychedelic take on the Beatles "Tomorrow Never Knows," that most rocked the crowd.
The highlight of the entire day and evening, however, had to be when Jeff Tweedy, Jim James, and Ryan Bingham joined forces with Dylan and his band for a tingling rendition of "The Weight," an obvious nod to the late Levon Helm, a longtime buddy of Bob’s and member of "The Band," and one of the most beloved roots-music artists of all time.
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and has been an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social scenes for more than 40 years.
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