Well, thank God for rock ’n’ roll. The simplicity of the form has made it possible for so many journeymen to offer their own particular spin on their life and times. Because rock music is so often easy to play – employing three chords as its center, and allowing for bridges that add a fourth chord, key changes that suggest the opening of new vistas, and the modal possibilities inherent in exploring a single chord to its outer most extremities – we’ve been blessed with songwriters who would’ve never cut it in a “serious” music curriculum.
Friday, beneath an unforgiving sky that promised rain, and delivered on that promise pretty much nonstop between the concert hours of 6 and 11 p.m., three bands that have made high art out of rock ’n’ roll’s lowly raw materials took over Canalside.
The hordes that turned out for the performance in the evil weather surely reaped the harvest that is solid rock songwriting and inspired rock performance. From beginning to end, Friday’s Counting Crows/Wallflowers/Willie Nile Band show delivered the goods.
Buffalo native Nile and his band kicked things off in a briefly rain-free environment.
Pushing his just released “American Ride” album, Nile kicked it hard, in a manner that would’ve made the late Joe Strummer of the Clash proud. A witty, erudite, and eloquent lyricist, Nile bathed his three chord rock in poetic elements, as he always has since leaving Buffalo some 40 years ago.
The new tune “Holy War” observed the idiocy endemic to battles fought based on some promise of eternal reward; “House of A Thousand Guitars” reveled in the glory of acknowledging all of those rockers who’ve come before us; and a torrid cover of Jim Carroll’s “People Who Died” reminded us that Nile is a New York City rocker who is keeping alive the connection to the seminal punk rockers who called that city home in the latter ’70s. An absolutely inspired, if too brief, set.
The Wallflowers followed Nile, and by this point, the rain was ridiculous, a sheet of precipitation that drenched anyone devoid of some cover, and made a mockery of the plethora of umbrellas in evidence. Guess what? No one seemed to be leaving. Front man Jakob Dylan – yes, that Dylan – literally took his hat off to the crowd near the end of the band’s set, honoring the fortitude of the by then absolutely drenched crowd and the toughness of the city itself.
The Wallflowers tore it up, playing a set of rock ’n’ roll tunes that consisted of most of the band’s best-known hits and a bevy of smartly chosen covers. One of these, a pretty smoking take on Marvin Gaye’s “Baby Don’t You Do It,” opened the set.
Jakob Dylan wore a straw boater, and yes, he looked an awful lot like his father, circa “John Wesley Harding,” but more significantly, the band gave us a selection of its own hits, among them “One Headlight,” “The Difference,” “Josephine” and “6th Avenue Heartache,” all of which were played beautifully by Dylan, original member Rami Jaffe on keyboards and former Red Hot Chili Peppers/Pearl Jam drummer Jack Irons on the tubs.
A cover of the burning Alex Chilton and the Box Tops/Joe Cocker soul-rocker “The Letter” was a nice touch, too.
Counting Crows started well past 9:30, which made it difficult to cover their set and still meet deadline, but I did manage to catch opener “The Rain King,” an appropriate nod to the immediate circumstances, and the band sounded relaxed, super tight and quite into it.
Buffalo Place Rocks Canalside continues today with a performance from soul/R&B singer Kem.