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Concert Reviews:
Bob Dylan, Wilco lead AmericanaramA charge at DTE

@graffonmusic, Facebook.com/Gary Graff on Music

Posted: Monday, July 15, 2013

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INDEPENDENCE TOWNSHIP -- Bob Dylan has a knack for confounding his audience. But the staging of his Sunday night, July 14, concert -- closing out the AmericanaramA Festival of Music's stop at the DTE Energy Music Theatre -- sent a new benchmark.

As one of the hottest days of the summer turned into a sweltering night , Dylan and his band -- most wearing suits, no less -- were flanked by two propane torches, not unlike those you'd find on a restaurant's outdoor area. When it's considerably colder. They were perhaps the props you'd least expect to see in this kind of setting.

Then again, perhaps it was intended as a metaphor for a show that was indeed on fire from first note to last.

Give most of the credit for that to the AmericanaramA undercard -- Wilco, My Morning Jacket and Richard Thompson, all bona fide headliners and potent live acts who certainly brought their best to DTE on Sunday. Thompson's half-hour set was criminally short, but there was no arguing with his trio's confident delivery of songs from his latest album, "Electric," as well as a lively romp through "Tear Stained Letter" and a particularly fierce rendition of "Can't Win." The British-born singer and guitarist also got some mileage about being a foreigner (of sorts; he lives in California now) on an Americana-themed tour and also having a song ("Good Things Happen to Bad People") nominated for an Americana Music Award.

My Morning Jacket's 70 minutes, meanwhile, swept through the psychedelic leanings of "Evil Urges" and "It Beats For You," the gentle veneer of "Golden," the hard-rocking muscle of "Holdin' On to Black Metal" and a majestic rendition of "Gideon," as well as both parts of "Touch Me I'm Going to Scream," played six songs apart.

The less than half-capacity DTE crowd was clearly loaded with Wilco partisans, and that group, characteristically, didn't disappoint with its 12-song set -- though typically glib frontman Jeff Tweedy professed surprise at the adulation. "I'm confused -- did something just happen," he replied to one spontaneous burst of cheering. "Is my fly down?" But Tweedy and company were certainly up for Sunday's show, starting strong -- with "War on War," "Handshake Drugs" and "I Am Trying To Break Your Heart" -- and tearing through an epic "Impossible Germany" highlighted by Nels Cline's guitar histrionics.

Cline and Thompson went head-to-head during a long, textural cover of Fairport Convention's "Sloth," and then, after a keeping Thompson on stage for "California Stars," Wilco also brought out My Morning Jacket, and the crew of Dylan's musical children and grandchildren banged through a swirling version of the Beatles' "Tomorrow Never Knows."

Dylan, of course, is well past performing with that kind of energy, but his 16-song, 100-minute show held its own fascinations. The folk-rock icon and his five-piece band continue to treat his catalog of songs as a living body of work, ripe to be twisted, turned, re-interpreted and experimented with, something fans find frustrating. On Sunday, however, Dylan appeared engaged and intense, his voice craggier than ever but his harmonica skills were still intact and his piano-playing provided plenty of counterpoints and complements to Charlie Sexton's lead guitar work.

Dylan and company mixed favorites such as "Tangled Up in Blue," "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall," "Simple Twist of Fate" and "All Along the Watchtower" with recent fare, including the bluesy "Early Roman Kings" and the shuffling "Duquesne Whistle," and he trolled deep into his catalog for "Summer Days" and "Blind Willie McTell." A cover of Thompson's "1952 Vincent Black Lightning" was a welcome surprise -- seemingly for Dylan's band, too -- as was a nearly unrecognizable "Blowin' in the Wind," which on Sunday replaced the tour's staple encore "Ballad of a Thin Man." He can be confounding, of course, but on Sunday, if you gave him his due license to play his songs any way he wants, Dylan's performance gave context to the performances that came before his and the general spirit of Americana(ramA) music.

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