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Wallflowers Eventually Bloom

Band Plays to Sold-Out Crowd at Paradise

By Amy Brzezinski

Dean Delray, Ron Sexsmith, and the Wallflowers

Paradise Rock Club

April 21, 8 p.m.

Two albums and three personnel changes after their major hit “One Headlight,” the Wallflowers are still cranking out solid songs. The band, fronted by singer/rhythm guitarist/songwriter Jakob Dylan, gave a rockin’ show at the Paradise Rock Club in Brookline this past Monday Night on the second leg of their Red Letter Days Tour.

Before the main act hit the stage, a couple of opening bands warmed up the crowd. Dean Delray, a bleach-blond, heavily tattooed half musician, half stand-up comedian, interacted with the audience by taking requests, though he didn’t play all of them. When I requested the Foo Fighters’ “Everlong,” he politely rejected me. Dean Delray did know Guns & Roses and ACDC, but when he tried to get the audience to sing, it was apparent that they didn’t. The best part of his performance was when he did an impression of the fictional band The Tom Cats (think Tom Waits and The Stray Cats combined).

Ron Sexsmith, the other opening act, also had an acoustic guitar, but was Delray’s polar opposite. Soft-spoken Sexsmith was mellow, sounding like David Gray. The lyrics to his songs were poetic -- I especially liked “Cheap Hotel” for its story-like quality. But for all the poetry in the world, Sexsmith couldn’t hold the audience’s attention. Instead of psyching up the audience as an opening act should, his lullaby-sounding songs made people yawn and look sleepy.

After a half-hour break filled with background music of Lifehouse (a subliminal promotion by Paradise for upcoming concerts), the Wallflowers came on stage and attempted to wake up the audience with “Everybody Out of the Water.” As usual, Jakob Dylan sang to the far end of his microphone as if a mini-audience were perched there. In fact, for most of the concert, Dylan seemed to be singing with either his eyes closed or with them focused on something other than the crowd. Although Dylan is known to be somewhat aloof during concerts (he actually turns around and plays to the drummer during solo breaks), he was especially detached from the crowd at this performance.

During the second song, “Three Marlenas,” I noticed that the rest of the band seemed to be enjoying themselves more than Dylan. Bass player Greg Richling was grinning and looking at the audience most of the time. I could almost see a thought bubble coming out of his head saying “I love my job.” Then again, perhaps he was happy because of the Corona he had been sipping between songs. On this song, guest lead guitarist Yogi Lonich really impressed me with a guitar riff that sounded something like a Third Eye Blind part -- it oddly worked for the song and Yogi seemed to enjoy playing it.

I was still singing along (and alone) to all the songs by the time the Wallflowers played “Josephine,” a slower love song. Keyboardist Rami Jaffee’s seeping organ was a highlight of this song -- it flowed in and out smoothly. I also enjoyed Yogi’s vibrato-style guitar, and guest drummer Malcolm Cross’ drumming during the bridge, which was heavier than on the record. It impacted the powerful words that Dylan sang.

A few songs later, Dylan actually looked at the crowd, saying “Well, now we’re going to play a song we haven’t played for a long time.” I got really excited, since I thought that maybe the band had decided to play “Skinny Lips,” a rare song that I had been requesting all night. Nope. The band broke into their good ’ole hit “One Headlight.” The song actually was one of the best that evening. The audience sang and clapped along. The entire band, including Dylan, looked more relaxed and seemed to enjoy playing -- Dylan even looked at the audience a few times. Although I don’t like “One Headlight,” it definitely was the high point of the concert.

My favorite song of the evening was the Elvis Costello cover of “Peace, Love, and Understanding.” It was dead on to the original, with Dylan ripping the vocals and hitting all the right inflections. Jaffee added excellent texture with organ and piano, playing both at the same time with one hand each.

Right before “Everything I Need,” Dylan was presented with a rose and cards from audience members, whom he thanked graciously. During the song, Dylan actually forgot the words -- twice. However, the rest of the band didn’t miss a beat, and vamped while Dylan smiled to the audience, trying to jump back into the song.

In the encore, Dylan and Jaffee played the musicbox-like “Babybird.” Dylan introduced the song, saying that tomorrow was his son’s birthday, and that since he couldn’t be with his son, he wanted to play this song. This statement suddenly hit me as perhaps the reason why Dylan looked distracted throughout the concert. After two other encore songs, the full band played “The Difference.” I felt that with this final song, the concert had come full circle, starting out with tired, tour-weary musicians and finishing with enthusiastic, interactive Wallflowers.

Although it took them a while to finally bloom, The Wallflowers were cohesive and well balanced as a group on all their songs, but at times I wished for more enthusiasm from Dylan as frontman. I was pleased to actually hear Jaffee’s organ and piano work -- he is a gifted improvisationalist. Also notable was Richling, who for the entire concert seemed to be genuinely excited about what was happening. Perhaps with either more touring, or with a decent break, the Wallflowers can rediscover the joy that is playing a sold out venue.