The Wallflowers pulled into Annapolis on May 24, 2022 toward the beginning of a summer tour which will take them across the country and showcase them in a wide array of venues, from theatres to outdoor “sheds.” The Ram’s Head On Stage, which bills itself as “the best music club in the United States with under 500 seats” was a great place to see Jakob Dylan and this tight 5-piece band. Unfortunately, the night turned to be memorable for reasons other than the music.
The show opened powerfully, with “Maybe Your Heart” and “Move the River” (“If all men are brothers/then brother why do you treat me this way”) a double-shot from their outstanding new album Exit Wounds. Dylan was front and center here and all night, usually with his Gibson acoustic, handling all the lead vocals and the running the band. These two songs showed off the band, with a welcome lap steel guitar ringing through. They set the tone for the rest of the show – a comfortable rock groove, played hard, but in control.
Having leaned heavily on the new album at the start of the show, when the band hit “6th Avenue Heartache,” there was a palpable sense of “oh I know that one” in the room. It garnered the night’s first sing-along, and the band stretched it out to include some great solos.
And then, right when things were about to take off, the room filled with smoke. I have been to a lot of shows at the Ram’s Head, but never one with pyrotechnics! After the entire room was cleared, and we waited 25 minutes or so outside, we were brought back in for the rest of the show. (It turns out someone’s vape pen had explored in his pocket.)
As Dylan forthrightly admitted, he had a hard time getting back into the rhythm of show after the forced break. Although individual songs were standouts, the show never totally recovered its momentum.
Three of the next four songs were also from Exit Wounds — “Roots and Wings” (the album’s single), “I Hear the Ocean (When I Wanna Hear Trains)” which showcased both the organ and the mandolin, and “I Will Not Let Down (But Will Not Give You Up). “I will Not Let You Down” featured the night’s best vocals – strong singing with interesting, almost (Bob) Dylanesque phrasing and lovely harmonies.
After a couple of slower songs, including “Invisible City,” Dylan teased the audience, saying “see, I can sing ballads.” And he absolutely can. But it’s like when Michael Jordan flirted with becoming a baseball player. He was good; very good even. But others are better, and it’s not what he’s best at either.
Then it was into fifth gear for the rest of the show, starting with “Dive Bar in My Heart” (“There’s no sleigh bells in winter time/There’s no top shelf or decent wine/It’s another slow jam same awful band/It’s the last stop the end of line/You’re on the list I’m easy to find/In the dive bar in my heart”), “God Don’t Make Lonely Girls” right into probably their best- known song, “One Headlight.” Before “One Highlight” Dylan gave the audience permission to “stand up, and even to move;” no one sat down for the rest of the night.
The show closed with “Who’s That Man Walking ‘round My Garden,” a raver and clearly a band favorite.
They encored with the only cover of the night, Tom Petty’s “The Waiting,” which had the immediate effect of turning the normally sedate Ram’s Head into a small neighborhood bar full of friends singing together.
Overall, the Wallflowers gave us seven of the ten songs from 2021’s Exit Wounds, making up just under half the 19-song set. (Another five came from 1996’s Bringing Down the Horse.)
It is exciting to see a band bring their newest material to the stage with such energy and passion. Exit Wounds is a terrific album, and the songs take on an increased urgency, a more compelling energy, live.