As a music fan, we all have a handful of concerts that week keep in our memory as truly memorable. Those five or six precious shows that just blew our minds that remind us why we are music fans in the first place. I can count the number of shows that have had that profound effect on me easily on one hand, such as Radiohead at the Fair Park Music Hall in Dallas, or Morrissey at the Apollo. I can now add another performance to that very elite list, limited only to shows that are nearly life changing. Last night, Rob Dickinson showed New York City that he is still one of the most talented musicians and brilliant poets out in alternative rock. The former Catherine Wheel frontman (well, possibly not former, but I will get to that later) bared his soul to a devoted crowed at Joe's Pub, performing a stunning acoustic set containing music from his solo album as well as a few surprise gems from Catherine Wheel's catalog.
First of all, I have learned that the best way to see a show at Joe's Pub is by reserving a table. Sure you'll spend some extra dough on overpriced drinks, but the view you get from the tables is far superior to that from the bar. When we were seated, my chair was less than ten feet from the stage. An unobstructed, seated view at a concert in NYC? Outstanding! When Ron Dickinson took the stage, he brought along three other musicians: an additional acoustic guitarist, keyboard player and an upright bassist. Given the nature of Dickinson's music, I wasn't quite sure how an acoustic set would go over, but I have to admit that it was quite possibly the best way for him to introduce his new music. Rather than bringing in the big guns for a full-electric set, he let the beautiful melodies of his songwriting carry the songs, along with his golden pipes. That voice is still just as powerful as it was back in Catherine Wheel's heyday.
The set began with "Oceans", a track off his forthcoming solo album Fresh Wine For The Horses. During certain moments throughout the song when it was only Rob and his guitar, the attentive crowd became so captivated and silent you could have heard a pin drop. Then the song ripped into its soaring chorus, backed by three-part harmonies provided by the keyboardist and guitarist. Dickinson took a short break to introduce himself as the former Catherine Wheel frontman, during which he made an interesting statement. He told the crowd "well, maybe not former." Could Catherine Wheel still have some life left after all? He then gave a toast to merlot, and went on to "Intelligent People". Again, the acoustic setting for his new material allowed his lyrics and melodies to shine.
I hoped that he might drop in at least one Catherine Wheel tune, which he did with "Futureboy" from their 1997 album Adam And Eve. It was one of those songs that I would never have expected last night, and it seemed to catch the crowd off guard too. Needless to say, Joe's Pub went crazy. Dickinson made sure to include a few more tunes off the solo album, including the single "My Name Is Love". The set ended with just one of those concert moments that will be forever burned into my memory. By the end of the first chord on his acoustic guitar, we all knew he was giving us the Catherine Wheel classic "Black Metallic." Even acoustic, he rocked the shit out of that song. I never got to see that band live, but getting to experience "Black Metallic" with Rob Dickinson pouring his heart out to his devoted crowd left me completely satisfied. He is the fucking man!
It wasn't until after the set ended that I began to think about the massive influence that Catherine Wheel has had on alternative music. So many bands owe their very existence to Rob Dickinson and the musical path that he created. All I can hope is that his new solo album helps create a new legion of fans that will go back and explore such brilliant albums as Ferment and Chrome. Rob Dickinson deserves enormous amounts of respect, which was reaffirmed last night. Judging from the strength of his new music and the power of his live performance, I have a feeling that we will be hearing from Mr. Dickinson for years to come.