By Todd Everett
It’s Dan Bern’s poor fortune to be hailed in some circles as the new Bob Dylan at a time when radio, being what it is, is looking for the next Jakob Dylan. In any case, singer-songwriter Bern, signed to Sony-distributed Work Records, follows a grand nasal singer-songwriter tradition that includes Loudon Wainwright III, Arlo Guthrie, John Prine and even Beck as well as the elder Dylan. His Troubadour set, packaged with two less-known but talented and interesting singer-songwriter acts for a measly $10 admission, proved to be one of the better bargains of a month in which it cost $90 to see the earlier Bob Dylan. (Of course, the Dylan fans didn’t have to stand for a 5-1/2-hour show.)
The first hour of Bern’s two hour-plus set was performed solo, with the Iowa-raised singer recounting his early days in Los Angeles, being rebuffed by labels and working a variety of day jobs, the patter tying together a number of his “earlier” songs and Bern claiming to have forgotten the lyrics to most of them — still getting the point of most across.
Second set, with Bern turning to electric guitar and joined by second keyboards, bass and drums, was highlighted by “Marilyn,” in which Bern speculates on what would have happened if Miss Monroe had married Henry, rather than Arthur, Miller, and a long, talking blues that started with Bob Dylan’s pilgrimage to hospitalized Woody Guthrie and ended with Bern’s own (imagined) sneaking over the barbed-wire fence of Bruce Springsteen’s local estate and visiting the Boss on his deathbed. It was a funny, rambling story with a perfect, though unexpected, payoff.