As a rule, musicians aren't known for their adherence to traditional career paths, but at the Electric Factory on Saturday night, one assemblage showed off unfamiliar songs like traveling salesmen hawking new products.
The occasion for the evening of primarily unreleased music was the NON-COMMvention, a gathering of nonprofit radio programmers specializing in the triple-A (adult album alternative) market. The previous two days were filled with private shows by the likes of Dr. John and the Hold Steady, but Saturday's keynote event was open to the public, allowing common folks to eavesdrop on the sometimes gracious and sometimes contentious relationship between musicians and the music-industry professionals who present them.
After waiting gamely through a set drawn largely from Jakob Dylan's solo album Seeing Things, which will not be released until June 10, the crowd perked up a few bars in when the Wallflowers' frontman played "Three Marlenas."
"You're putting it together now," Dylan quipped, as if he had gone unrecognized till then. "It's the same guy!"
Canadian singer-songwriter Kathleen Edwards, whose country-tinged pop is laced with sardonic asides and quirky references, struck a serious note by thanking triple-A flagship WXPN for jump-starting her American career. But Alejandro Escovedo, who played a turbulent set of roiling, furious songs from his Real Animal (due out June 24) to diffident response, made no attempt to hide his frustration.
"Thank you for your polite clapping," he said with dry sarcasm, before dedicating a song to Joe Strummer, the late English punk icon, because "if he were out there, he'd be dancing."
Real Animal's lyrics recall Escovedo's long-ago tenure in 1970s punk bands and draw energy from that time as well. The lackluster crowd may have gotten under his skin, but his anger only added fuel to his fiery performance.
Dylan, in contrast, seemed to have trouble raising himself out of a mild stupor. His backing band, the Gold Mountain Rebels, was still getting a handle on the new material, and the set was frequently interrupted by upstage conferences, as the members worked out the beginning of the next song. Combined with Dylan's drowsy acoustic songs, the confusion created a sense that this year's model isn't ready for display. Either that, or Dylan just wasn't in the mood to sell himself.