OK, so most of you know my thoughts on Rob Dickinson. As the former (or possibly not former) frontman for one of the most criminally overlooked bands in the history of alternative rock, Catherine Wheel, he has been a musician always on the verge of making it yet always falling just inches short. Why the Wheel never made that leap to mass success still boggles my mind. Not that the band lacked success, but albums such as Ferment, Chrome and Adam & Eve should have made a much larger impact than they actually did in the States.
After taking over five years to complete his debut solo album, Dickinson released Fresh Wine For The Horses last year. To promote the record, Dickinson has embarked on several runs of acoustic dates from coast to coast. I caught him several months ago at Joe’s Pub, where he has backed by an upright bass player as well as a second guitarist. Last night he returned to NYC for another acoustic show, this time at the Mercury Lounge. Unlike the last time I saw him this performance was Dickinson only.
When it came time for Rob to begin, all that he had on stage was a stool, a couple of bottles of water, his acoustic guitar, three effects pedals, a microphone and his harmonica. This stripped down performance allowed Dickinson to take away the shimmering electric guitars and feedback of his albums, leaving his poetic words and gorgeous melodies to shine in the spotlight.
Unlike his Joe’s Pub performance, Dickinson seemed much more comfortable in the acoustic setting. He had plenty of stories and jokes to fill the time during his hour and a half long set making this particular night very memorable for his die-hard fans. He kicked off with the classic Wheel tune “Heal”, turning the performance into an all out sing-along. In fact, the sheer amount of Catherine Wheel tunes last night actually surprised me, covering material from practically every album. He included gems such as “Little Muscle”, “Delicious”, “Crank”, “Ma Solituda” and a stirring rendition of “Eat My Dust You Insensitive Fuck”.
One of the absolute highlights of the evening came from his deeply personal “All Of That”, which was on the Wheel’s Wishville album. He admitted that this song was composed in his childhood bedroom during a very dark point in his life. During the performance, he even changed the lyrics a bit on the line “I am the brother of a famous man” to “I am the cousin of a famous man”, showing a hint of jealousy towards cousin Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden’s fame.
Dickinson was in good spirits last night, even fooling around a bit. Early on in the set, a somewhat inebriated fan shouted “Weren’t you in Bush?” Dickinson laughed it off, even singing a few lines of “Everything Zen”. The humor carried on for the rest of his set, adding in comments on becoming a US resident, becoming infatuated with American Idol and admitting that he is slightly envious of Gavin and Gwen’s paparazzi in Los Angeles.
He made sure to perform plenty of material off his solo album as well, including the single “My Name Is Love”. Dickinson also sang “Oceans”, Intelligent People”, “The Storm” and “Handsome.” The night ended with his always jaw-dropping acoustic version of “Black Metallic”, which still ranks as one of my favorite live tunes of all time.
Rob Dickinson was, and still is, one of the most important voices in alternative rock. His deep baritone vocals easily soar to a spine-tingling falsetto, showing more range in tone and passion than most other performers I have ever heard. His songwriting, musicianship and voice have never been better, which makes me wonder what the future may have in store for Rob. Admitting that Catherine Wheel may not be over, perhaps that final step to real success may be in reach.
For those of you who have yet to catch his amazing acoustic performances, he has a few left stop left on his itinerary.
03.02.06 – Philadelphia, PA (North Star Bar)
03.04.06 – Boston, MA (Paradise Lounge)
03.05.06 – Montreal, QC (Petit Campus)
03.07.06 – Toronto, ON (Lee’s Palace)
03.08.06 - Pittsburgh, PA (Club Cafe)
03.10.06 - Brooklyn, NY (Southpaw)