Wallflowers blossom at House of Blues

Andrew Hampp

Credit: Beth Rankin

I got the weirdest reactions from friends when I told them I was going to see The Wallflowers.

“I haven’t listened to that band since the eighth grade,” one friend said.

“They’re still around?” another asked.

Yes, the Wallflowers are indeed still kicking, five albums deep into a career that peaked in 1997 with the hits “6th Avenue Heartache” and “One Headlight.” Although the band’s post-Bringing Down the Horse successes haven’t been anywhere near the heights of their late ‘90s heyday, their set at the House of Blues Monday proved they’ve still got plenty of hits left in them.

The night got off to a mediocre start with opening act Anna Nalick, the 20-year-old singer-songwriter currently dominating adult-contemporary radio with the piano-driven hit “Breathe (2 AM).” While Nalick gamely tried to liven up songs from her debut album, Wreck of the Day, there was just no helping the fact that all the songs followed the same midtempo, guitar-heavy formula, lacking the intimacy that made “Breathe” and the uptempo set closer “Bleed” stand out like sore thumbs.

While Nalick wore out her welcome halfway through her 45-minute set, there was something very surreal about seeing The Wallflowers take to a concert stage in 2005. Had this been eight years ago, they would’ve been playing to a sold-out crowd at Blossom with Sheryl Crow opening or some other faux-folk-rocker.

But instead they were at the House of Blues, which was filled only slightly over medium capacity, three-fourths at best.

Also, seeing Jakob Dylan in person would’ve made college-aged girls faint with excitement in 1997. This year, however, the girls’ screams were considerably less deafening, making the experience all the more pleasant. The only residue of the Jakob Dylan-as-blue-eyed-dreamboat-rock-star fanfare was the presence of one sign-toting fan, whose homemade poster read, “I love Jacob.” It’s a real testament to a band’s staying power when the fans have already forgotten how to spell the lead singer’s first name.

Spell check-free posters aside, the Wallflowers proved they are now able to play a concert free from hype and swooning females, making Monday night a true show for the fans.

This was evidenced right off the bat by the warm reception for “Here He Comes (Confessions of a Drunken Marionette),” the lead single from the band’s upbeat new album Rebel, Sweetheart. Even though the album was released late May to mediocre reviews and press fanfare, the crowd was more than excited to hear the six tracks the band played from the new disc, going especially berserk for “Back To California,” the Wallflowers’ most straight-ahead rocker since Horse single “The Difference.”

The band also drew heavily from 2002’s under-rated Red Letter Days, whose six songs drew the biggest applause from the fans next to the hit singles. Dylan and keyboardist Rami Jaffee opened the six-song encore with stripped-down versions of sunny singles “When You’re On Top” and “How Good It Can Get,” which worked flawlessly as guitar-and-piano ballads.

The biggest surprise, however, aside from the band’s cover of Van Morrison’s “Into the Mystic,” was the finale, a rock-and-roll take on the acoustic hit “Three Marlenas.” The otherwise pleasant ballad became a sing-along stadium anthem, with fans holding up their fingers for the countdown chorus.

The Wallflowers may not have even been able to fill the House of Blues at this stage in their career, but they still made a lot of fans happy Monday in Cleveland.

Contact Pop Arts editor Andrew Hampp at [email protected].