Overshadowed by Wallflowers: Blues Traveler no match for its opener

By Jae-Ha Kim
Chicago Sun-Times
November 15, 1996

The highlight of Blues Traveler’s concert Thursday night at the UIC Pavilion occurred about 90 minutes before the set. That’s when the opening-act, the Wallflowers, came on and performed a musically superior show that left more than a few fans wishing they had been the headliners.

It wasn’t that the Wallflowers were particularly physical performers. If anything, they remained as immobile on stage as Blues Traveler. However, their songs had variety and veered in tempo, and singer-guitarist-songwriter Jakob Dylan’s passionate delivery made each song spring to life.

The Wallflowers are having their first taste of commercial success, thanks to their haunting hit single, “6th Avenue Heartache.” Their hourlong set included most of the songs on their latest album, “Bringing Down the Horse,” as well as a rocking cover of “Tears of a Clown.”

The quintet is a first-rate band playing crisp guitars that don’t drown out Dylan’s plaintive voice. Dylan’s songs suit his moody delivery. He’s best at capturing the frailties of human nature and presents vignettes without judging his protagonists (“She only went and did what she did/’cause he would drive her home then”). He’s also comfortable adding a country edge to the raunchier numbers such as “God Don’t Make Lonely Girls.”

Like his father, Bob, Dylan has a penchant for penning oblique lyrics (“She always prayed to headlights”). But he also has grown into a thoughtful songwriter with a nimble mind for wordplay (“The only difference that I see/is you are exactly/the same as you used to be”) and delivers the words confidently. If you missed this go-round, the Wallflowers will play at Q101’s Twisted Xmas 3 concert at the Rosemont Horizon on Dec. 1.

Blues Traveler, on the other hand, would have benefitted from a little musical editing. While their improvisational jams have led to favorable comparisons to the Grateful Dead, Blues Traveler’s set lacked the spontaneous groove that made their concert at the Riviera a few years ago such fun.

Best known for the joyous “Run-around,” Blues Traveler debuted a couple of new numbers (“Canadian Rose”) that fell flat. But the deceptively titled “Psycho Joe Goes to the Electric Chair” had an addictive be-bop flair, especially when John Popper stopped singing in his deep, gravely voice and played his trademark harmonica.

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