Lessons Learned at Americanarama

miloHey Pal:

So, in my review of the fun. concert the other day I was admittedly a little hard on the old boys of rock, arguing they can’t generate the same level of excitement as the up and comers. In principle I stand by the argument, but I do enjoy witnessing an exception.

On Monday at the Molson Amphitheatre in Toronto, you and I witnessed an exception: Americanarama – with Bob Dylan, Wilco, My Morning Jacket and Richard Thompson. A bunch of old dudes. A hell of a show.

In fact, the old dudes taught me a few things. Here are my lessons learned at Americanarama:

We shouldn’t have been late

It must be said that a 5:30 start on a Monday night is a little bizarre. Nevertheless, that’s what it was, so you and I missed all of Richard Thompson’s set. I have dug me a little Fairport Convention in my time, and I adore Richard and Linda Thompson’s Shoot out the Lights album…

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…but I wasn’t, at first, too broken up about missing the old guy’s set. But events later in the evening taught me it’s a big fat bloody shame we didn’t get more of Mr. Thompson. More on that in a bit.

My Morning Jacket loves bears and saxophones

We did manage to catch most of My Morning Jacket’s set, and I’m glad we did. I don’t know MMJ too well but man oh man did they blow the roof off. And they did it with flair. Bear flair. Bears all over the stage, including a golden bear that frontman Jim James held aloft in worship, and bears all over the t-shirts of the handful of adoring MMJ fans in the crowd. Why bears? I have no idea. Maybe because furry frontman Jim James looks like one….

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Also, just when you thought rock sax was history, half the band rocked a saxophone at some point. And it was awesome! Hail rock sax! Hail the bear! Hail MMJ.

Wilco are honourary Canadians

Bob was the headliner, but the evening’s number one star must go to good ol’ Wilco. Pal, you and I have seen Jeff Tweedy and the boys, or Jeff Tweedy solo, five times now and I think this may have been the best. Sweet mama these guys are good live. So very very good. And, to make things even better, Jeff promised us a night of Canadianarama. This meant duets with Canadian chanteuse Feist on Wilco’s own “You and I” and Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne”. And, if that wasn’t enough, they brought out MMJ to destroy (in a good way) “Cinnamon Girl”…

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…It was loud. It was epic. Wherever in the world Neil Young was at that moment, he heard it and he was pleased.

When Bob is on, it is mesmerizing

I’m not going to lie – these days, live Bob is not the finest show you’re going to see. We saw him last fall at Air Canada Centre (ACC) and it was OK. But this time was better. In fact, it was pretty damn good. The band, which faced Bob the whole time (respect!), was tight. The beautifully lit stage was stunning. And Bob’s piano and harmonica sounded sweet. The focus was on newer songs, and they sounded just like they should, and the older songs – like “Tangled Up in Blue”, “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” and encore “Blowin’ in the Wind” – sounded like the new songs, and were hard to recognize until the refrain rolled around and everyone went crazy. When I slid into Bob’s groove, the whole scene was hypnotic.

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You’re not supposed to sing along with Bob

I like to sing along to songs I know, and I am pretty darned familiar with many Bob songs. So it was a little frustrating when his grizzled, snarly voice refused to enunciate any line but the title of a song. Why does he do that? Well, for one, I suspect he’s just keeping things interesting for himself after doing this job for 50 years. But I also think perhaps he doesn’t want you to sing along. This ain’t no duet, dude. Don’t be trying to share the air with Bob. When Bob sings, you shut up and listen, even if you don’t know what he’s trying to tell you.

Bob really does love us! (maybe)

Bob is famous for not acknowledging his audience anymore. Not a word. Not a look. Not a gesture. That’s how it was at ACC, but this week we got a little love! He talked (for a moment anyway). He brought out Jeff Tweedy and Jim James to help him out on “Twelve Gates to the City” – a nice crowd-pleasing gesture…

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…and at one point he stood at the mic and gave us all a little smirk and a wiggle. “I know you’re out there,” he seemed to say with that sly little grin. “I’ll do whatever the hell I feel like doing up here, but I am glad you came.” Thank-you, Bob. That’s more than we dreamed of and all that we needed.

Sometimes a crowd needs a good kick in the ass

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I’ll tell you what’s wrong: One of the greatest live bands in the world (yes, Wilco) is on stage and no one is standing! These people have the best seats in the house, and they can’t be bothered to rise out of them out of respect for the hard-working geniuses on stage? (Well, OK, one person is standing. And please note she is wearing a Leopard Skin Pill Box Hat. My hat’s off to her – that’s an awesome gesture at a Bob show.)

The flaccid crowd erected itself eventually. Here is a charming little dance party that broke out during Wilco’s rollicking version of “California Stars”:

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By the time MMJ were back on stage to help with “Cinnamon Girl”, all were on their feet (see “Wilco are honourary Canadians” pic above), and they stayed that way for Bob. But it shouldn’t have taken so long. My message to everyone at every rock concert everywhere – Get Up, People! Dance! Sing! Wave your devil horns! Rock is not a spectator sport.

The chances that there is a God are slightly greater than I thought

Like you, Pal, I think it is extremely unlikely there is a God. But when Wilco brought out Richard Thompson to join them in playing Fairport Convention’s “Sloth” something very strange happened. Did you notice? The heavens above the Molson Ampitheatre opened up, a pair of divine hands reached down to gently caress the minds, hands and guitars of Thompson and Wilco’s Nels Cline, resulting in two of the world’s best guitarists launching into a mind-blowing guitar duel, a 12-stringed miracle of unearthly beauty. At one point, the very fabric of space-time peeled open and we were all transported to a supernatural realm where water is wine, the blind can see and the sky blue sky is full of rainbows and radiance and boundless love. Did you notice that? Was it just me? Anyway, as you might have guessed, it was the highlight of the show for this Pal (Nels on the left, Richard on the right).

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That’s it, eight lessons learned. Thanks for getting the tickets, Pal. Ninth row! You did good. We did good. The old rockers did good. Wonderful night.

Later, Pal.

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3 responses to “Lessons Learned at Americanarama

  1. So it looks like rock legends over the age of 40 can still be relevant, live anyway. Sounds like an awesome show for the two of you Americana fans.

  2. More assholes like you that fuck the show up for everyone else by standing – through Dylan?

    • Thanks for the thoughtful comment, hosehead — always nice to hear from a “Two Pals” fan! Sorry I ruined the show for everyone else in attendance (didn’t know I had such power) but I stand by what I said. In my experience there are two things guaranteed to ruin a concert: 1. being too far away from the stage and 2. having to sit on your ass and be polite the whole time. A concert should be a party. Let loose. Wave your arms. Shout. Sing. And for the love of Bob, get the hell up.

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