First of all, the Americanarama Festival of Music may be the worst name for a concert I have ever heard. From here on it will be shortened to AFM, which, although vowelless, has a better ring to it. Moving on.
Opener Ryan Bingham, known mostly for the song “The Weary Kind,” from the movie Crazy Heart, which won a Grammy, an Oscar, a Golden Globe and a Critics Choice Award in 2010, is not only closer to EGOTing than Tracey Jordan from 30 Rock, but also a solid performer. From underneath the bridge leading to the upper deck of the pavillion at SPAC, the stately rhythm of “Sunshine,” from his album Mescalito, rattled the ribcage with kick drum, bass, and unhinged slide guitar.
The beginning of My Morning Jacket’s set focused mostly on material from their latest release, Circuital. The eponymous track from that record put a spell on the crowd with its cycling guitar arpeggios before guitarists Carl Broemel and Jim James changed their hoodoo. James strummed acoustic guitar underneath what he once hyperbolically dubbed “the best guitar solo of all time” on VH1 Storytellers, filled with shimmering tremolo licks that patiently climbed Jacob’s ladder to the sky.
A few songs afterward, James paused to say, “We have experienced the miracle of life.” He waited a few moments to let the profundity of the statement sink in before repeating it. James’ mystical banter drew a few excited cheers from the audience but his rich tenor voice brought the crowd closer to God than any proverbial wisdom, especially on songs like “Wordless Chorus” and “Anytime,” from MMJ’s spectacular 2005 album Z.
Before the dust could settle on their road case after hosting the Solid Sound Music and Arts Festival at MASS MoCA, Wilco played their second show in the greater Capital Region in less than two months, switching up their set with a special guest appearance from Garth Hudson, keyboard wizard from the Band. Hudson walked on stage to warm applause and played plangent accordion on “Long Black Veil” and “California Stars,” from Wilco and Billy Bragg’s rendering of unfinished Woody Guthrie tunes, Mermaid Avenue.
Another song by the Band was on tap. The bearded 20-something standing behind me could feel it—in his bowels. Before the next song began, he drunkenly shouted, “If they play, ‘Chest Fever,’ I’m going to shit my pants.” Jim James rejoined the fray to sing harmony and play guitar with Jeff Tweedy. Thankfully, no one crapped themselves.
The remainder of Wilco’s set may have proved revelatory for those unfamiliar with their oeuvre, but for those that have made the pilgrimage every summer, versions of “Impossible Germany” and “I’m The Man Who Loves You” were a good opportunity to shovel in some poutine on the lawn.
Appearing in the order of most years in the game, Bob Dylan and His Band took the stage under a dark blue evening sky and the crowd stood reverently to welcome him. Because Dylan’s vocal range has worn with the smoke of one million cigarettes, his band played very gently in order to keep the vocals foregrounded. The fire of a barn-burner like “All Along the Watchtower” came across a little cool and it was hard to tell if he was singing “Simple Twist of Fate” until the chorus came. Dylan’s voice worked best on newer tunes like “Beyond Here Lies Nothing,” from 2009’s Together Through Life.
With YouTube videos of Jim James and Jeff Tweedy sitting in with Dylan on “Twelve Gates to Heaven” at the AFM in Toronto last week, many in the crowd were waiting to see what all-star collaborations might be on tap, but Dylan, ever the contrarian, brought no young guns out for his encore, instead playing “Blowin’ In The Wind” and proving no amount of smoke, rain, or age could erode how true his words ring today in the face of revoltingly similar injustices.