Lots of folks missed Bob Weir‘s opening set — exuberant singing and hard-strumming acoustic guitar on Robert Johnson’s “Walking Blues,” “Corinna,” “Black Throated Wind,” “Standing on Shaky Ground,” “Me & My Uncle,” “The Music Never Stopped” & others — at last night’s Americanarama show at the Amphitheater at the Florida State Fairgrounds. The ex-Grateful Dead guitarist and singer’s subsequent sit-ins were among the highlights of the evening — “Dear Prudence” with My Morning Jacket & “Dead Flowers” and “Friend of the Devil” with Wilco.
MMJ’s stuff was layered and sometimes jammy, with Jim James his usual fascinating, committed-to-the-performance self on music that variously touched on hard rock, prog, and psychedelic soul. It’s a great band, but the set was too short; just as the group was getting warmed up, it was over. Wilco was sometimes acoustic-electric, sometimes loaded with distortion and guitar overdrive, largely courtesy of brilliant six-stringer Nels Cline. I particularly liked “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart” and “I Got You (At the End of the Century).”
About Bob Dylan: Well, he had a great band, as usual, with blues guitarist Duke Robillard leading the roots-rock outfit. Dylan’s voice, once partly gravel, is about 99% gravel these days — not much musical texture left in his instrument. It was nice hearing “Things Have Changed,” “Tangled Up in Blue,” “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” and “All Along the Watchtower,” at least for the social-historical value; on occasion, he offered some rudimentary piano work. The guy’s an icon, and more power to him, I guess, for keeping on keeping on.
One annoyance: The stage set, with torches, looked kind of cool, and the mood-lighting thing would have worked well in a small venue. But not so much in a big outdoor shed. Those up close could see the set and the musicians, but the Amphitheater for some reason opted not to use the big video screens conveniently placed on opposite sides of the stage. So those in the cheap seats (like me) were out of luck. Would have liked to see what Dylan and the rest looked like, in real time.