Dhani Harrison, Summer Moon at U Street

IMG_4861There were more grey-haired types than usual at the Dhani Harrison show Tuesday at the U Street Music Hall.

Were they suddenly interested in dense, synth-heavy 21st Century anthems from a guy becoming known for his sprawling soundtrack work? Excited about his solo album “In///Parallel”? More likely they were taking a night off the Fab Faux circuit to check out one of the more authentic chips off the old Beatles block.

Harrison, at 39, looks a lot like his dad, and he sounds even more like him, especially in those keening high ranges, than anybody else around. Those who have seen him on any of the various George Harrison tributes know he can hold his own on guitar against some of the all time greats as well.

All of that, plus the chance to see him in a club likely no bigger than the Cavern (and also downstairs!) brought the oldsters out midweek, along with the younger fans, who more likely know of Harrison’s work with his previous bands, thenewno2; Fistful of Mercy, with Ben Harper and Joseph Arthur; or amid the Los Angeles collective that included the two acts that have joined him on tour, Summer Moon and Mareki.

It was solely Summer Moon that opened the night (though Mareki popped out to help sing one tune with the headliner).

Summer Moon is fronted by Strokes bassist Nikolai Fraiture, who came out as if a week late to Halloween, in a golden cape and headband. It was quite a lineup for a middling opening band, with Noah Harmon of Airborne Toxic Event on guitar and Camilia Grey of Uh Huh Her on keyboards. She was actually a better vocalist than Fraiture, but he led on everything even when he couldn’t quite remember the lyrics. “The great thing about you not knowing the songs, is that you don’t know when we fuck up,” he said at one point.

The real highlight of the band is drummer Stephen Perkins of Jane’s Addiction (who formerly backed Harrison in thenewno2). In Summer Moon, he played everything with snap and control — and proved himself maybe the best musician on stage all night.

Harrison’s set, to support his first album under his own name, was a densely textured thing, with his guitar (and much of his vocals) super processed not only through the usual bank of effects pedals, but also through an entire countertop of further devices that loop and double the sound as needed.

It all provided a look into how he probably works in his studio creating soundtracks, as he has for films like Beautiful Creatures and Learning for Drive and TV series that include Good Girls Revolt, The Divide, Outsiders and the current White Famous.

But it was a rock show and he sometimes seemed bogged down into the synthesized sweep rather than showing much interest in performing. Perhaps taking a cue from his Wilbury uncle Bob Dylan, he took his center stage spot warily, performing in shadows without a spotlight and beneath a ball cap. The view was further obscured by banks of blinding lights at each edge of the stage aimed at the audience.

At the same time, every time he managed to create a dramatic build up in many of his songs, “My Eye” for one, indicating the landscape would then open up to a whole instrumental exploration, the song instead would just stop.

Never pausing to introduce his musicians — which included bassist Blas Perez of Big Black Delta, drummer Chris Hornbook of Senses Fail, Noah Harmon of Airborne Toxic Event on guitar and keyboardist Josh Giroux — Harrison often seemed drowning and vexed by his electronic immersion.

Different effects would fail; he’d always be ducking down to jiggle a pedal, then reading over to his effects table as if to keep the electronic plates spinning. He couldn’t quite hear the audience (or said he couldn’t) because of his in-ear monitors. For the encore, he had to apologize getting “hooked back into the Matrix” with the earphones.

When a whole phalanx of equipment failed at the end of the set, he had to heed to a suggestion so old school as to sound rustic: “Just plug in directly to the amp.” None of this was a rejection of his heritage; indeed, many forget George Harrison was the first of the four to come out with a solo album, the 1968 soundtrack “Wonderwall Music” and his experimental “Electronic Sound” in 1969.

While there were a number of vocal highlights from Harrison, he never gave a satisfying guitar solo in the show, so buried under the effects. In the encore, the crowd agreed to quiet for a contrasting ballad, before cranking back up to its Matrix-level majesty.

When it came time for a throwaway cover to cap the show, though, he could have gone down any number of paths, but instead chose another.

Of course, he could have thrown in one of his dad’s songs. It wouldn’t have to be “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” which he’s joined in on any number of tribute occasions — including the epic Rock and Roll Hall of Fame performance with Tom Petty and Prince. It could be a tasty early rocker like “Don’t Bother Me” or “I Want to Tell You.” Even something as rudimentary as “Piggies” (to go with “Summertime Police?”). But with a group capable of swelling to big sounds, something like “The Art of Dying” would have been awesome.

As one of those greying Beatles fans in the crowd, who saw the elder Harrison on his 1974 “Dark Horse” tour and helming the “Bobfest” a Madison Square Garden in 1992, all of that would have certainly been satisfying.

But I can certainly understand him avoiding all that, of course, to better establish his own name on what is, after all, his first Dhani Harrison solo tour.

Still, why not at least pause to honor his other Wilbury associate, Petty, after his recent sudden death? Or at least segue to his “The Waiting” out of his own “All About Waiting”?

Instead, he followed so many bands of the last several decades doing a throwaway version of the Stooges’ “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” bringing members of Summer Sun out to join him. Because it’s one of those jams everybody knows.

Like “Louie, Louie.”

Or “Twist and Shout.”

 

The setlist for Dhani Harrison Tuesday was:

  • “Summertime Police”
  • “My Eye”
  • “#WarOnFalse”
  • “So Vain”
  • “Úlfur Resurrection”
  • “Poseidon (Keep Me Safe)”
  • “Downtown Tigers”
  • “The Sharp Knife”
  • “Make It Home”
  • “Yomp”
  • “Admiral of Upside Down”
  • “All About Waiting”
  • “I Wanna Be Your Dog”

Here’s an interview I did with Harrison last month.  

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