Echo in the Canyon
Oct. 12, 2015
“There’s a lot of good singers here,” Jakob Dylan said early on at the Echo in the Canyon concert. “I hope I’m one of them.”
He needn’t have worried. The Wallflowers leader sounded clear and confident at the first of two sets at the Orpheum on Monday night, and he was a charming and garrulous host onstage, in distinct contrast to his notoriously laconic father.
The Echo in the Canyon concerts were arranged on relatively short notice to mark the 50th anniversary of the release of The Byrds’ debut album, Mr. Tambourine Man, the 1965 record that first brought attention to Hollywood’s burgeoning folk-rock scene. The two shows were filmed as part of the promotion surrounding the Echo in the Canyon compilation, which is scheduled to be released next year and features remakes of songs by groups who were part of the era’s fabled Laurel Canyon music scene.
For a brief but magical spell in the mid-1960s, Los Angeles was the center of the rock & roll universe. The British Invasion had already crested, and the public consciousness hadn’t yet shifted north to San Francisco for the Summer of Love. Garage-rock bands like The Seeds and East L.A.’s The Premiers and Thee Midniters were still thriving, but the Sunset Strip was starting to be taken over by a new breed of folk-influenced musicians, many of whom settled in Laurel Canyon. Although it’s hard to imagine today, rents in the area were low enough to attract rising musicians like Joni Mitchell, The Doors and Frank Zappa, and the hilly neighborhood offered the illusion of being a sylvan escape from urban Hollywood.
Ads for the Orpheum concerts listed well-known figures like Beck, Cat Power, Fiona Apple and Regina Spektor in addition to Dylan, but it might have been more accurate to bill the evening as a night with Jakob Dylan and friends. As Dylan and his backing band performed all the songs, the other singers popped in for a couple cameo appearances apiece.
As it was, there were several interesting collaborations on Monday night, even if it wasn’t always clear if the entire affair was merely an exercise in sentimental, easy nostalgia or represented a sincere attempt to re-create the sense of community that once existed in Laurel Canyon.
Jade Castrinos, formerly with Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros, was a revelation early on in the first set, as she countered Dylan’s laid-back vocals with a passionate, Linda Ronstadt–style delivery on the Mamas and the Papas’ “Go Where You Wanna Go” and “Dedicated to the One I Love.” The near-capacity crowd gew excited when Beck ambled onstage for The Byrds’ “Goin’ Back,” and his warm, burnished vocals blended well with Dylan’s.
The mood shifted again when Fiona Apple strolled out, wearing a sleeveless, floor-length black dress, and dueted dreamily with Dylan on The Beach Boys’ “In My Room.” Their languidly enchanting version floated in the large theater with an idyllic, almost-tropical coolness. Apple and Dylan followed with another country-flecked Byrds song, “It Won’t Be Wrong,” which jangled airily and was pumped up by circus-y keyboards.
With its tall walls and high ceiling, the Orpheum can have a muddy, echoing sound, but Cat Power’s tremulously soulful vocals cut through the murk like a beacon on a candied remake of The Association’s “Never My Love.” Dylan took back the reins for an unexpectedly stately version of The Monkees’ “She,” although the tempo dragged a little. It was a bit of a kick to hear Dylan take on The Monkees, a band that was rarely taken seriously in the ’60s, as well as bring things full circle by covering The Byrds — the band that rose to prominence with versions of songs by Dylan’s dad. The enigmatic Power, dressed down in dark pants and a black shirt, returned for a moment to purr The Turtles’ “You Showed Me,” giving the already slinky melody a newly mesmerizing spin.
“Don’t be confused by her slight stature — this next singer is a real firecracker,” Dylan said in introducing Regina Spektor for a beguiling interpretation of Love’s “No Matter What You Do.” The band didn’t quite replicate Love guitarist Johnny Echols’ sublimely droning original guitar parts, but Spektor’s yearning vocals unfurled majestically over the chords in one of the night’s highlights. Spektor sparkled again on a spacey remake of Buffalo Springfield’s “Expecting to Fly,” which culminated in a short, jolting “A Day in the Life”–style rave-up.
“It is Monday evening, after all,” Dylan mused before Beck, Castrinos and Spektor joined him for a pleasant if unremarkable encore of the Mamas and the Papas’ “Monday Monday.” Like most of the night’s covers, the remake was sweetly sung and generally faithful to the original version, even as one hoped for more of Cass Elliot's vocal fire.