Thursday night at the Usana Amphitheater, Bob Dylan delivered a night of unforgettable music, with help from Wilco, My Morning Jacket and Ryan Bingham. Given such an impressive lineup, the festival had a lot to live up to.And yes, tickets were slightly more than the $5 Twilight concert, but concertgoers got what they paid for.
Ryan Bingham and his band hit the ground running with cowboy-rock riffs, searing fiddle and a gruff, soulful voice. Despite the intense sunshine and mostly empty amphitheater, they delivered a hearty West Texas sound. Fans and newbies alike couldn’t help but tap their toes to a reinvigorated “Southside of Heaven.”
Next up were folk-rock heroes My Morning Jacket, setting the tone of the night with a jangly “Heartbreakin’ Man” and a couple of tunes from their latest album, Circuital. Then, as if part of the show, the sun broke through the clouds just as lead singer Jim James picked the opening notes of “Golden.” After a slew of signature slow jams and hard-hitting staples, John Stirratt and Pat Sansone of Wilco joined the band for a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Hungry Heart,” the first of the night’s many collaborations. When My Morning Jacket left the stage, our hearts were both hungry for more and eager for what Wilco had to offer.
Wilco manned the stage under a sinking sun, taking the crowd on a memorable musical odyssey. Frontman Jeff Tweedy started things off with an acoustic “Less Than You Think” before the band joined in with the layered piano of “Poor Places.” The highlights came in droves, but the most surreal moment was hearing the soft, jazz-inspired opening notes of “Impossible Germany” while every cloud in the sky bled orange, pink and purple. Keeping the collaborative energy alive, My Morning Jacket joined Wilco for a colossal cover of The Beatles' “Tomorrow Never Knows” to end their monumental set.
As the stars emerged, so did Bob Dylan & His Band. After seeing Dylan perform a few times, it’s clear that his shows are like playing Russian roulette with a revolver full of rusty bullets that always hit the mark. His band elevated his gravelly garbles, sinister lyrics and harmonica riffs with swampy blues and banjo licks. As they stomped through “Early Roman Kings,” Dylan’s swagger demanded allegiance as if he himself were a king, while his lanky dancing entertained the crowd.
A wonderfully modified “Tangled Up in Blue” exemplified the essence of Bob Dylan, despite what critics might say. It’s true the man can’t sing like he could in ’65, ’75 or even ’85, but he was never much of a singer anyway. As a result, we get new arrangements of old favorites and fresh songs that better fit his Tom Waits-esque growling. The fact that he still gets up there and growls despite the critics is what makes him Bob Dylan. In the end, we paid to see an old coot do his thing onstage. Lucky for us, this old coot is the greatest songwriter of all time.
The undisputed highlight of the night came when Dylan welcomed back Jeff Tweedy, Jim James and Ryan Bingham to cover The Band’s “The Weight.” When Bingham took his turn with the mic, the reason for this festival resonated: to remind the younger crowd where some of today’s greatest Americana music came from, while showing the older crowd where it’s headed. Bringing these generations together keeps the musical roots alive while opening minds to new possibilities, which is the essence of Americana music.