In Concert: Brian Dunne Comes Off the Ropes

Brian Dunne with Brennan Wedl, The Pyramid Scheme, Grand Rapids Michigan, May 5, 2023.

Back when I started to read the music press in the mid-1970s, one of rock critics’ ongoing themes was “The Search for the New Bob Dylan.” Who could fill the bill? A widely-hyped superstar-in-training like Bruce Springsteen or Dire Straits’ Mark Knopfler? A fresh-faced folkie like John Prine or Steve Forbert? Or maybe Bob Dylan himself, after he: a) went acoustic again; b) went electric again; c) got divorced; or, d) got found by Jesus? The quest for an artist with that kind of potential, a unique alchemy of words, music and voice, got downright obsessive – and ended in disappointment more often than not.

Now that rock itself has taken a back seat to pop and hip-hop in mass culture — and Bob D. himself is 20-plus years into his ultimate, impressively rich comeback — “The Search for the New Dylan” has long been moribund. But if somehow it became a thing again, I’d submit New Jersey-born, Brooklyn-based Brian Dunne for consideration. On the basis of his first visit to Grand Rapids, touring behind his fourth album Loser on the Ropes, this youthful singer-songwriter is the real deal.

With three recruits from Brooklyn group The Tube in his corner, Dunne came out swinging: the catchy rocker “Stand Clear of the Closing Doors”, the stutter-stepping “Rockaway”, the new album’s pensive title track and the mid-tempo singalong “The Optimist” all connected solidly with the small but enthusiastic crowd. Dunne’s vivid, thoughtful lyrics — questing, skeptical, bemused, poignant all at the same time — gained force and traction riding his insistent verbal rhythms, immediate melodies, tightly constructed tunes, and direct, appealing voice. The backing band delivered consistent muscle: on guitar, keys and backing vocals, Tyler Rigdon added high harmonies, extra propulsion and Brothers in Arms/Born in the USA atmospherics; bassist Sam Gehrke locked in with a tight, solid groove; and Chris Krueger laid down an irresistible backbeat that vibrated the walls — or at least the cushions in the booth my wife and I occupied. (Full disclosure: Chris is my nephew!)

His pace firmly established and the crowd fully on his side, Dunne varied his attack, weaving in back-catalog highlights like the Mellencampish “Nothing Matters Anymore” with the band and the hushed “Chasing Down a Ghost” as a duet with opening act Brennan Wedl. Solo songs “New Tattoo” and “Taxi” set up a final full-band run, with the winning singles “Bad Luck” and “It’s A Miracle” bringing the audience to their feet and the rootsy “Fiona” (from Dunne’s collaborative side project Fantastic Cat) giving Rigdon, Gehrke and Krueger the chance to channel a bit of The Band.

Brian Dunne performs “Bad Luck” live in Grand Rapids.

Plowing into their encore without bothering to leave the stage, Dunne and his seconds delivered their final haymakers with the affecting “Sometime After This” and the rollicking “If You Wanna Stay Awhile”. All in all, an enjoyable night that sent me happily to the merch table for CDs and an autograph! If you’re looking for fresh, thoughtful songwriting that has both forthright appeal and subtle intensity, Brian Dunne’s music might just knock you out. (And check out The Tube and Brennan Wedl too!)


Set List:

  • Stand Clear of the Closing Doors
  • Rockaway
  • Loser on the Ropes
  • The Optimist
  • Walk Me Home
  • The Kids Are All Grown
  • Nothing Matters Anymore
  • Chasing Down a Ghost (with Brennan Wedl)
  • New Tattoo
  • Taxi
  • Thinking of a Place
  • Bad Luck
  • It’s a Miracle
  • Fiona (Fantastic Cat song)
  • Something to Live For
  • Sometime After This
  • If You Wanna Stay Awhile

— Rick Krueger


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