If Not For You - St. Louis Blows Out The Candles for Bob Dylan [Live Review]
Planned as a benefit for 88.1 KDHX to celebrate the songwriting of Bob Dylan Shot Of Love - a 70th Birthday Party and Tribute, succeeded triumphantly in giving the sold out Off Broadway audience a night to remember. Roy Kasten, host of Feel Like Going Home on KDHX, assembled a lineup of supremely talented St. Louis musicians to celebrate the songs of Rock 'n Roll's poet laureate. Allowing the bands to choose 5 songs each, Kasten whittled down the overlapping choices until each performer/group had their allotted songs.
From limited edition posters printed by artists Sleepy Kitty Arts that sold out before the evening was over to trivia questions leading to giveaways, St. Louis music fans were treated graciously by both KDHX volunteers and the Off Broadway staff.
The host of KDHX's Emotional Rescue, Cat Pick, served as the upbeat master of ceremonies for the evening while Scott Swartz, from local band Prairie Rehab, kept the evening moving smoothly in his role as stage manager. A rigid pre-planned schedule and quick gear change-overs in 15 minute gaps by the bands alleviated the crowd from becoming too restless.
The performers were the real highlights of this four-hour plus evening. Each of the twelve artists contributed at least one strong performance of their short 3 song sets. The evening began with the musicians presenting acoustic based sets and gradually becoming more electric, following Dylan's own career arc.
Cassie Morgan and The Lonely Pine opened the set with acoustic Dylan playing two songs from The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan - "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right" and "Corrina, Corrina" and the slower, more acoustic Blonde On Blonde track, "4th Time Around."
Up next, The Skekses (Ellen Herget Lacie Mangles from Prairie Rehab* and Evan O'Neal from Pretty Little Empire) touched on three different Dylan eras in their set - folk singer, electric and early '70s rock star. Herget's vocals shined as their take on "Boots of Spanish Leather" stood out from the rest of their set as the power of "Highway 61 Revisited" lost a little something in the acoustic arena. Thought they still made the audience smile reproducing the toy whistle heard on the original. *(Thanks to Ellen's dad. Sorry for the glaring mistake. He obviously knows his daughter better than I do. =) - Ed.)
Armed with his acoustic guitar, folk singer Ryan Spearman made the most of his scheduled two songs. He brought the original Dylan sound out flawlessly as he performed versions of the classic '60s generation defining classic "The Times They Are-A Changing" and a chilling take on the deep track "Tomorrow Is A Long Time" from last year's The Witmark Demos:1962-1964 release.
Joe Stickley and Sean Canan brought their folk chops and heavy McGurk's gigging experience to bear with their take on The Basement Tapes outtake (and Byrds classic) "You Ain't Going Nowhere" and the Blood On The Tracks classic "You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go."
Unfortunately, none of the evening's performers risked tackling longer Dylan numbers like "Desolation Row," but Rough Shop joked before their set that they would play the 11-minute "Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands" "We've got a half hour, right?" Choosing later Dylan material to perform, Rough Shop started off with the country twang of "Abandoned Love" from the Biograph box set and slowed down version of Mississippi from Love and Theft. However, their version of "Isis" from Desire energized the audience and featured the lead vocals of bassist Anne Tkach
Bringing their rich harmonies and years of playing experience to the stage, Cumberland Gap picked and strummed through their three songs. The group's rendition of "Wallflower" featured rich country harmonies the song always deserved. Professionally well done indeed.
The superb vocal delivery of Rebecca Ryan made the mini-set from The Sparrows enjoyable and soulful at once. A standard version of "Tangled Up In Blue" from Dylan's classic divorce record Blood On The Tracks started things off right, but a slower, bluesy version of "I Want You" oozed with sex as Ryan's voice killed and a sizzling electric guitar version of "Oxford Town" were even better. Even without a lot of rehearsal time the band put on a great set and luckily we'll be able to see more of them as singer Ryan is moving back from Chicago in the coming months.
The full-on rock of Magnolia Summer impressed with their take on "Positively 4th Street" and the lesser known "New Morning." But it was the hard-hitting attack reminiscent of the Live 1966 'Royal Albert Hall' Bootleg Series version of "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues" that put the set over the top as they amended the last line singing, “I’m going back to South City, I do believe I’ve had enough!”
A jaw dropping performance by The Feed highlighted the middle of the show. Professional chops from the entire band and a mature rock/electric blues singing voice from vocalist/pianist/keyboardist Dave Grelle allowed the group to firmly nail their set of classic mid-'60s Dylan and the Blood on the Tracks classic "Simple Twist Of Fate." Leaving most of the evening's participants in the dust, the band's entire set was a top highlight to the evening leading to rave reviews from the audience immediately following their set. Plan to catch the band again soon as they will play Off Broadway again on June 24.
Opening with the deep catalog cut "Oh Sister," Pretty Little Empire kept the rock sound moving with some excellent guitar work. The reverb wash on "Its All Over Now, Baby Blue" gave the song its original etherial sound as recorded on Bringing It All Back Home without sounding overly derivative. The band changed gears fluidly reaching a slightly more country sound of the Nashville Skyline cut "Tonight I'll Be Staying Here With You."
Displaying no fear Karate Bikini let it all hang out picking three classic rock radio standards and didn't disappoint. Starting off with a somewhat shaky "Lay Lady Lay," they regrouped and brought the room back nicely with a strong, straightforward take on "Leopard-skin Pill Box Hat." Then, as the opening chords rang out as the room heard the song they'd waited for all night. Still considered by many critics as the greatest rock song ever, Karate Bikini perfectly executed their cover of "Like A Rolling Stone" that had the crowd singing, dancing and swaying along.
Ending with the most professional musicians of the event, Brothers Lazaroff shrugged off the classic '60s Dylan for parts of the songwriter's more contemporary catalog. Beginning with a slow, moving rendition of the overlooked modern Dylan classic "Most Of The Time" from Oh Mercy, they turned up the volume with a stunning rendition of "Cold Irons Bound" that echoed Dylan's mid-'60s sound that made their rhythm section shine. Taking the energy level higher, Brothers Lazaroff shimmied and shook while playing a barn-burning version of "Summer Days" from Love and Theft.
Brothers Lazaroff brought the remaining performers left in the house back to the stage to play a passionate version of "I Shall Be Released" in the style of The Last Waltz or the end of a Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony. The band played as the other performers like Rebecca Ryan from The Sparrows and David Grelle from The Feed sang verses and other performers sang on the chorus. As a surprising upbeat ending, the band brought the house down as they ripped into "Rainy Day Women #12 and #35" giving out as many solos as possible and eliciting the crowd to sing-a-long with the oft-repeated line "everybody must get stoned."
Bob Dylan tribute KDHX benefit set list
* denotes strong performance
Cassie Morgan & The Lonely Pine
Don't Think Twice, It's All Right
4th Time Around
Boots of Spanish Leather*
Highway 61 Revisited (short)
The Times They Are-A Changing
Tomorrow Is A Long Time*
Joe Stickley & Sean Canan
Buckets of Rain
You Ain't Going Nowhere*
You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go*
Love Minus Zero /No Limit
Tangled Up In Blue
I Want You*
Oxford Town (electric)*
Positively 4th Street*
Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues*
Obviously 5 Believers*
It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry*
Simple Twist of Fate*
Pretty Little Empire
It's All Over Now, Baby Blue* (drummer singing -Reverb wash)
Tonight I'll Be Staying Here With You
Lay Lady Lay
Leopard Skin Pill Box Hat*
Like A Rolling Stone*
Most Of The Time*
Cold Irons Bound*
Grand Finale - all performers involved
I Shall Be Released
Rainy Day Women #12 & #35
Notable songs missing were "Blowing In The Wind", "Masters of War", "Mr. Tambourine Man", "Subterranean Homesick Blues", "Maggie's Farm", "Knocking On Heaven's Door", "Silvio" and the too aprapo Forever Young. However, all is easily forgiven when one looks at the breadth of Dylan's vast catalog. Two nights or even a weekend could have been planned and some songs still would not have made the lengthy set list. Still plenty of smiling faces left the venue last night knowing they saw an evening of great music from an increasingly strong St. Louis music scene. Here's hoping next time is a million dollar bash!