By Sam Frank
Back in 1996, I was a high school junior obsessed with two genres of music: Rock and Rap. If Alice in Chains’ thrashing sound wasn’t inciting head-banging madness then Tupac Shakur’s poetic “Thug Life” anecdotes grabbed my attention. While kids today learn about up and coming artists through the internet, I used MTV’s Top Ten Countdown as my source for new music, and through this program I discovered Jakob Dylan’s unmistakable voice as the video for The Wallflowers’ ” 6th Avenue Heartache” steadily climbed the charts. To be honest, my first impression of the group was less than favorable. Because “6th Avenue Heartache” lacked the thunderous roar of bands like Pearl Jam and Soundgarden, and was without the tough edge that made Tupac and Nas superstars I felt that The Wallflowers sound was boring, and that MTV was using it to bridge a looming generational gap in music. That being said, (pull)I never would have thought that 10 years down the road my adrenaline filled body would be standing front and center at New York City’s majestic Highline Ballroom watching a mature Jakob Dylan perform “6th Avenue Heartache” before a sea of lively fans.(/pull) What could have happened over the past decade that changed my opinion of The Wallflowers so drastically? The metamorphosis originally began on my 18th birthday; a week before the start of my freshman year at the University of Florida . In early August of 1997, I went with my friends, Jason and Tony, to see Rage Against The Machine with The Wu-Tang Clan in West Palm Beach , Florida . After the Hip Hop/Rock bonanza came to a close I stumbled upon a flyer for an upcoming Counting Crows concert. Since the show was set to take place on my birthday, August 20th , I figured it would be a great way to celebrate. So, on the day of the show I picked up my friend, Mia, and took a two hour drive towards West Palm Beach on the Florida Turnpike. After finding our seats the lights went down, and The Wallflowers (consisting of keyboardist Rami Jaffee, guitarist Michael Ward, drummer Mario Calire, bassist Greg Richling, and vocalist Jakob Dylan) stepped on stage to open the show. Although I don’t remember what song the band began their set with I do remember the surprising force generated during “One Headlight,” “Laughing Out Loud,” and “The Difference;” all songs from their 4x platinum album, Bringing Down The Horse (1996). While the band’s energetic songs got everyone’s juices flowing, it was the slower songs like “Josephine,” ” 6th Avenue Heartache,” ” Invisible City ,” that received the loudest applause. By the end of The Wallflowers’ invigorating set I had no energy left for the Counting Crows, and apparently neither did Mia because she asked if we could go home halfway through the Crows set. On our way back to the car Mia turned to me and said, “ya know, the show would have been a lot better if the Counting Crows opened up for The Wallflowers.” I agreed with her wholehearted. That very next day I bought Bringing Down The Horse (1996), listened to it incessantly, and had a blast three months later while watching the band perform at the University of Florida during homecoming week. “We did this tour with Counting Crows in the summer of ’97, playing five nights a week,” drummer Mario Calire explained to Rolling Stone’s David Fricke back in 2000. “And almost every day off we had, we booked a gig somewhere on our own. We would drive way out of the tour route to do our own gigs. We played every city there is to play, shook every hand there is to shake.” In 1997 alone, The Wallflowers played a staggering 275 shows.
Those words of wisdom pushed me to study Japanese harder; gave me the energy to stand up in a blizzard after dislocating my shoulder on a mountain while snowboarding; kept me calm as I swam for safety after a typhoon-generated wave pushed me 20 ft. under water while surfing; and haunted me when I thought about giving up music journalism in Japan because I didn’t have enough money in the bank to feed myself. Over the years, The Wallflowers’ sound has helped me through some of the darkest moments in my life, and the day I realized that writing about music was part of my destiny I vowed to write about this band’s contribution to my soul. In October of 2007, I was presented with the opportunity to keep that promise. New York City ‘s Highline Ballroom is like an arena that can house various kinds of sports. As Madison Square Garden can be a basketball court one night, and an ice hockey rink another night, (pull)Highline Ballroom can change from a Hip Hop club to a Rock Show venue, and the Rock Show venue was in full effect as the reconstituted Wallflowers (consisting of bassist Greg Richling, drummer Fred Eltringham, guitarist Stuart Mathis, and Vocalist Jakob Dylan) opened the show with “Shy Of The Moon,” a song from the band’s 1992 self-titled debut album.(/pull) With the departure of keyboardist Rami Jaffee, Jakob was the only remaining member from that original 1992 line-up, but that didn’t stop Greg, Fred, and Stuart from flexing their talents on such classics as “Three Marlenas,” “God Don’t Make Lonely Girls,” and, of course, “6th Avenue Heartache,” where the Jaffee’s keyboard was replaced by Mathis’ breathtaking axe. A delicate balance between the stage’s colorful luminescence and the band’s enchanting sound created the evening’s soft tone. With the exception of sporadic intensity bursts, reminiscent of the shows I saw a decade ago, the Highline Ballroom performance had an overall acoustic feel to it. The more potent moments of the evening came during the lively versions of “The Passenger” and “How Far You’ve Come,” off the band’s most recent album, Rebel, Sweetheart (2006). After joking around with audience members, The Wallflowers finished their intimate show with two brilliant songs off Red Letter Days (2003), “Closer To You” and “Everything I Need.” Although the crowd favorite “One Headlight” was not part of the evening’s set everybody left with smiles on their faces, indicating that The Wallflowers have never been, and will never be a one hit wonder.
What drastically changed my opinion of The Wallflowers is quite simple: I grew up. Sometimes people listen to music, but they don’t really hear it, and I had no way of hearing “6th Avenue Heartache” as a 17 year old kid who only listened to Rock and Rap. For me to understand the beauty of The Wallflowers’ music I had to travel the world, almost die twice, and hit rock bottom emotionally and financially. But at the end of the day, it was worth it, and for the rest of my life I will be able to use Jakob Dylan’s voice as a key to my own inner strength. As for listening to Pearl Jam and Soundgarden; well, (lead singer of Pearl Jam) Eddie Vedder’s Into The Wild Sdtk. and (Former lead singer of Soundgarden) Chris Cornell’s Carry On are two new albums that portray these legendary rock gods in a softer context, and while Jakob Dylan hasn’t veered too far from the sound that earned him two Grammy Awards, both Vedder and Cornell have found new life on the quieter side of town. It only took 15 years for Dylan’s harder edge contemporaries to truly understand the magical depth of his sound, but better late than never.
All the photos in this gallery are from The Wallflowers’ rocking show at New York City’s Highline Ballroom in November 2007.
All images are copyrighted.
**Click on any picture below to initiate Lightbox Gallery.