spinning in the air

Winter may be rearing its ugly head but Thursday night the flowers will be in bloom — The Wallflowers that is — at the University of San Diego’s Jenny Craig Pavilion. It has been a long time since The Wallflowers were last in the spotlight with their 1996 album “”Bringing Down The Horse.””

Six million copies and four years later, lead singer Jakob Dylan, keyboardist Rami Jaffee, bassist Greg Richling, guitarist Michael Ward and drummer Mario Calire are finally ready to take the stage once again.

The Wallflowers have returned in the nick of time. Four years between albums is a long time, especially in an industry where pop acts are cranking out Christmas albums, multiple singles and remixes, one after another.

The Wallflowers were almost in danger of winding up on VH-1’s “”Where are They Now”” program. However, rock critics will always pay attention to The Wallflowers. Every song Dylan writes will be dissected for any glimpse of what life is like when you are — as put by both Rolling Stone and Elle magazines — “”Son of Bob.””

It is inevitable that Dylan is singled out from the rest of the band in almost every interview or article. The Wallflowers are very much his band. After the band practically dissolved following its unsuccessful self-titled debut on Virgin Records, Dylan and keyboardist Jaffee recruited what became the Wallflowers’ new lineup, and recorded “”Bringing Down The Horse.”” The album’s first single, “”6th Avenue Heartache,”” had already been playing on modern-rock radio and VH-1 long before rock journalists made the connection between Dylan and his legendary father.

It was clear that the younger Dylan was not about to let music press drift in the direction of his father. Thus, the band embarked on two-and-a-half years of touring, playing over 270 shows in 1997 alone. The album produced three hit singles, “”6th Avenue Heartache,”” “”Three Marlenas”” and “”One Headlight,”” which picked up a Grammy for Best Rock Song, proving this band had legs of its own. Still Dylan was often criticized for being too impersonal in his songwriting and on stage. In other words, not talking about or referring to his father enough to satisfy rock historians’ insatiable appetite for a glimpse into the life of Bob Dylan.

Shy by nature, Dylan often feared achieving too much success. He admitted to Rolling Stone last month that he is a reluctant rock star.

“”I never spent anytime working on that kind of skill,”” Dylan said when asked about his stage presence.

Toward the height of The Wallflowers’ success with “”Bringing Down The Horse,”” Dylan also began to see flaws within his songwriting as metaphors and imagery, especially in “”One Headlight,”” which flew right over the heads of fans.

So after the grueling tours wrapped up, Dylan did what every “”serious musician”” dealing with the harsh reality of fame does. He took a vacation and retreated to his home in Los Angeles to spend time with his wife and two children. Dylan’s third child was born in September.

To write the songs for The Wallflowers’ new album “”Breach,”” Dylan rented a house in Los Angeles that he converted into a studio, put in eight hours a day of undisturbed creativity and found inspiration in the most dreaded place: his own life. Still, there are no songs titled “”My Father the Icon”” or “”Dad Wrote ‘Blowin’ in the wind'”” on this album, but Dylan is definitely more comfortable penning lyrics that address his rock ‘n’ roll lineage. Songs like “”Hand Me Down”” and “”I’ve Been Delivered”” are obviously about feeling overshadowed and unappreciated.

One can only imagine to whom Dylan might have been referring. The songs on “”Breach”” are lyrically abstract enough to taunt rock critics drooling for the slightest Bob reference.

However, it is unlikely that any of the fans that attend tonight’s concert care much about Dylan’s illustrious father. Fans will turn out because The Wallflowers are simply a good band. The songs are catchy, and, at the risk of sounding completely shallow and superficial, Dylan is not too bad to look at, even if he is married with three kids. In past shows, Dylan evoked Beatle-esque screams from adoring female fans. Now in his thirties, it will be interesting to see if his fans have grown up as well.

It will also be interesting to see if Dylan’s new lyrical honesty will translate into his stage persona. In front of a college crowd is where The Wallflowers should feel most at ease. From the beginning it has been younger fans that have actually given The Wallflowers a fair shot.

Even though Dylan sounds more like Bruce Springsteen than Bob Dylan and draws inspiration from acts like The Clash and Paul Westerberg, early concert reviews repeatedly compared The Wallflowers’ songs to Bob Dylan songs. One Rolling Stone review of a San Francisco show in 1997 even said “”‘6th Avenue Heartache’ sounded like an update of ‘Like a Rolling Stone'””

So The Wallflowers might be the first rock band that would rather talk to Carson Daly on “”Total Request Live”” than Rolling Stone magazine. Bassist Richling told David Fricke for the October issue, “”It’s nice to be in a position where it’s about our group, our music.”” Even if that means playing to audiences that have never heard “”The Times They are a-Changin’.””

However, the audience at tonight’s USD concert will have most likely heard “”Like a Rolling Stone,”” “”Blowin’ in the Wind,”” “”Mr. Tambourine Man”” and “”The Times They are a-Changin’.”” There is enough room in rock for two Dylans, and there is room in San Diego for just about any rock band that wants to play because God only knows what else there is to do around here. Tonight’s show will kick off what may be the first leg of a North American tour.

Doors open at 8 p.m. with opening act Everlast followed by The Wallflowers.

See the Hiatus Calendar for ticket prices and information.