The crisp, jangly sound of mid-1960s California pop returned to Los Angeles when Jakob Dylan gathered some of his famous friends for Echo in the Canyon, an all-star concert held Monday night at the Orpheum Theatre.
With a cast featuring Beck, Fiona Apple and Cat Power, the show was part of a larger tribute project that also includes a studio album due next year. A movie crew recorded Monday’s gig, the first of two, for a companion film.
Echo in the Canyon was pegged to the 50th anniversary of “Mr. Tambourine Man,” the Byrds’ debut album that introduced some of the era’s sonic signatures. But the set list roamed well beyond the Byrds, with songs by the Beach Boys, the Turtles, Love and the Mamas and the Papas.
“Southern California music, right?” Dylan asked rhetorically at one point, and it was easy to hear his fondness for his source material.
Hearing anything deeper than affection was a different matter. Backed by a tight, muscular band playing vintage instruments, Dylan channeled the Byrds’ ringing guitars in “The Bells of Rhymney,” the Mamas and the Papas’ keening harmonies in “Dedicated to the One I Love” and Buffalo Springfield’s rootsy stomp in “Questions.”
He also got a bit – but only a bit – of the madcap humor that the Monkees brought to the mid-’60s scene in a version of their “She.” Behind the musicians, clips from the Monkees’ TV show flickered across a large white backdrop.
Yet if Dylan’s homage was meant to argue that this music still matters – that it has more than well-burnished memories inside it – he didn’t quite sell that idea, in part because he had so little to say between songs about the music or what it means to him. (The show's haphazard sequencing didn’t help.)
Perhaps he’ll elaborate in the movie to come. But Monday’s hourlong concert was a ticketed event, with some tickets priced as high as $99; it should have justified its existence as a standalone affair.
Echo in the Canyon came closer to doing that when Dylan’s guests appeared. Apple in particular was up to the task of interpretation (as opposed to mere imitation) in the Beach Boys’ “In My Room,” which she remade as a kind of confrontation: Yeah, I’m a loner, the song seemed to be saying. What’s it to you?
Cat Power was good, too, in her take on “Never My Love” by the Association; here that wispy ballad had real sensuality, a quality the indie rocker-turned-soul singer also brought to her and Dylan’s duet on the Turtles’ “You Showed Me.”
Beck, whom Dylan introduced by saying they had Christmas caroled together, found less space for himself in a fairly straight rendition of the Byrds’ “Goin’ Back.”
Still, as Beck sang about “thinking young and growing older” over plangent acoustic guitar, you could sense the impact the Byrds’ song (and many like it) had on his folky 2014 album “Morning Phase.” It was an echo with a purpose.