The only difference is a re-shuffled line-up and a fantastic new album
When designing Set lists on the current nationwide trek in support of their fantastic new release, Rebel, Sweetheart, the Wallflowers have had five albums worth of songs to choose from each night. According to keyboardist Rami Jaffee, who co-founded the band in Los Angeles with Jakob Dylan when the two were barely emerging from their teenage years, they're digging the opportunity to play songs from throughout the band's 15-year career. This Saturday night at the Borgata's intimate Music Box, the Wallflowers make theifinal stop on the first leg of their summer tour.
"It's bizarre," says Jaffee. "Now that we're five albums deep in our career, we have such a huge list of songs to pick from to play every night."
This list includes mega-hits such as the Grammy-winning "One Headlight," "The Difference," and "6th Avenue Heartache" from 1996's quadruple-platinum selling breakthrough, Bringing Down the Horse. The band, which has played places like Little Rock, Chicago, Milwaukee and Cleveland this summer, has also done songs from 2000's follow-up, Breach, and 2003's critically acclaimed, Red Letter Days. "When the Blackbird Sings," from the Wallflowers' often overlooked, but stunning, 1992 self-titled debut, has been dusted off for play on the road, too.
"I hate when bands come and play the whole new record and nothing else," says Jaffee. "It's like 'Are you kidding me? You have like five records!'"
If the Wallflowers did only play the new material, however, it wouldn't be that bad of a thing. Rebel, Sweetheart's one dozen smart, roots-rock numbers, which showcase the band's modest rock 'n' roll sound of guitar, keyboards, bass and drums, find the band sounding recharged, and Dylan, 35, in top form as a songwriter.
Dylan's songs continue to deal with the chaotic, yet beautiful modern times we live in. Like 12 individual paintings working together to form a unique and powerful whole, the collection of songs on Rebel is one of the band's most compelling yet.
Some of the up-beat rockers, like "Back to California" and "Nearly Beloved," are especially fun to play, admits Jaffee. Same with the strong new single "The Beautiful Side of Somewhere," which the band performed on several late night talk shows when the album came out at the end of May. Other new standouts include "Here He Comes (Confessions of a Drunken Marionette)" and "Days of Wonder." Each new song is sweetened with a delicious hook that effortlessly draws the listener in.
As is consistent with the band's past catalogue, Rebel runs on the fuel of straight-ahead rock. The Wallflowers leave the trendy gadgets, samples and all-star guest appearances to their contemporaries. As music fans themselves, the band's members know what a detrimental effect jumping on any given musical bandwagon can have on a band.
"Even as teenagers we were always suspicious of bands who did that kind of thing," says Jaffee. "Even though it wouldn't show that it was a bad move for another 10-20 years, there are those smart teenagers out there that get the sense that - 'it's not a good move, dude.' We hope for timeless [music]. As timeless as it can get."
With a meaty new album, and a crack new drummer in Fred Eltringham (Gigolo Aunts), the Wallflowers, after a two-year hiatus, sound refreshed, recharged and reinvigorated. Keyboardist Jaffee says the simple make-up of Dylan on guitar and vocals, Greg Richling on bass and he and Eltringham is "hands down" the best sounding Wallflowers to date.
Although Rebel, Sweetheart features some lead guitar work from long-time band collaborator and veteran producer Brendan O' Brien (Pearl Jam, Rage Against the Machine, Bruce Springsteen), the Wallflowers have eschewed a lead guitarist for their summer tour quartet, leaving Dylan to be the sole six-string slinger and allowing Jaffee to slip into the role of playing the Keith Richards to Dylan's Mick Jagger.
Looking back, Jaffee says he never thought the Wallflowers would have had to endure the many personnel shake-ups experienced over the years, but adds that the band feels just right in its current incarnation.
"In the very, very beginning - no way," he says. "I thought this was going to be the band forever. I was definitely shocked on a couple of the line-up changes, but it's always been for the better. It's definitely evolved to a really good place. Especially Fred - right now on drums - my favorite drummer ever."
Throughout Rebel, there's a sense of rebirth, especially on the final track "All Things New Again," and the preceding "How Far You've Come." Perhaps, in part, Dylan penned the latter about the Wallflowers' continuing journey in the music business?
"He definitely likes to cover a lot of different meanings when he writes," says Jaffee. "And some songs, I think, he'll write about one thing, and look back at it and make sure it could mean more than one thing so it's not such a one-sided, temporary song. But, yeah, maybe there's a little bit of that in there. I think so. Maybe a little bit about himself, maybe, who knows?"
One thing Jaffee does know is that at this stage in the band's career, those who still perceive the Wallflowers as simply "Bob Dylan's son's band" probably won't be changing their minds' anytime soon.
"I guess at this point if they still feel that way, maybe that's because they're [Bob] Dylan fans or something," says Jaffee. "I don't know." n
The Wallflowers play the Borgata's Music Box, Saturday, July 16 at 9pm. Opening act is Anna Nalick. This show is sold out.
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