Men out of time, those Dylans. Big Bob came to Memphis’ Beale Street Music Festival and countrified it like a ’50s-style Gold Medal Flour-sponsored fair. Two days later, the Wallflowers — featuring Bob’s youngest son, Jakob — closed the event with their ground-affirming ’70s-style classic rock.
On a stage overlooking an old highway bridge across the Mississippi River, Bob Dylan so charmed the Friday night audience of 40,000 that by his first encore — an acoustic “Forever Young” (rumored to have been written about young Jake) — beer-filled lasses were climbing on their boyfriends’ shoulders. The elder Dylan, bedecked in a dashing cappuccino-colored Western-wear suit, a Colonel Sanders tie and a white straw cowboy hat, stretched out with long and loping guitar solos, smiling throughout the 13-song set of vintage material. The night’s country bent was established with his opener, “Absolutely Sweet Marie,” and the boundaries were stretched with a distorted, psychedelic and exhilarating “All Along the Watchtower.”
The set list went deep with “You Ain’t Going Nowhere,” which closed with Dylan’s band harmonizing a cappella. His acoustic arrangement of the Grateful Dead‘s “Friend of the Devil” had a dancing backbeat skank; “This Wheel’s on Fire” was performed achingly slowly; and “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat” was delivered juke-joint raw. The only hint of the 1990s came during Dylan’s second encore, when he altered the chorus of “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” from “Everybody must get stoned” to “Everybody must get home.” He left the audience chanting, “Bob! Bob! Bob!”
A fair dose of his fans stuck around for two days to see the Wallflowers. But the band mostly drew a huge contingent of young girls wearing braces and training bras who knew the band’s hits and Jake’s good looks.
The Wallflowers immediately knocked off their single “One Headlight.” So close on Dad’s heels, the younger Dylan’s lines “Nothing is forever/There’s got to be something better” rang with an Oedipal resonance. “6th Avenue Heartache” was greeted by a bank of raised cigarette lighters and swaying hands. The band’s stage setup was four across (with drums behind), as if to emphasize the group and not Dylan. Nevertheless, he was the brightest member. Lead guitarist Michael Ward changed instruments frequently, and while keyboardist Rami Jaffee’s sound was great, a dancing keyboardist striking rock-star poses will always look goofy.
The Wallflowers’ set drew heavily from their second LP and made “Three Marlenas” and “God Don’t Make Lonely Girls” sound like two more radio hits. For an encore, they launched into a scruffy, mussed-up version of the Band‘s “The Weight.” That healthy irreverence said it all: This wheel’s on fire.
This story is from the June 26th, 1997 issue of Rolling Stone.