Thursday, July 11, 2019

come with me

According to this blog, I last saw Wilco two years ago at -- drumroll, please -- Solid Sound. As I recall, we knew Wilco was going on a break after the festival, but I'm not sure we expected to wait a couple of years to see the band again. You can imagine how gratifying it was to realize that the festival was not only Wilco's return but also a reintroduction and unofficial launch of their new record, coming this fall.

Solid Sound Festival, June 28-30, 2019

In fact, there was a listening party for the new record in one of the exhibit halls in the museum over the weekend, but I didn't make it there. Actually, I didn't make it to most of the engagements at the festival. I admit to becoming jaded about MASS MoCA. Can you blame me? This was my seventh trip to the site. Also, our group of friends had grown more lackadaisical about arrival times, now that we no longer stay in town. But in the end, I was the schmuck who wandered down to the field and grabbed a spot where I could find one at the barrier. Fortunately, the crowds weren't oppressive, and group traded shifts, so we were able to maintain a presence without much stress. We did fine for the main stage, but at least for me, I sacrificed the supplemental festival acts.

Courtney Barnett, Solid Sound 2019On Friday, that meant I finally got to check out Courtney Barnett. It's no secret that (1) I'm a venue snob, (2) I've become incredibly lazy about seeing shows in recent years, and (3) I'm simply not as informed on new acts as before. Thus, despite many friends' recommendations, I've regretfully missed all of Courtney Barnett's shows in the Bay Area, and at this point, she may have grown out of the clubs I prefer. Thankfully, Wilco helped right that wrong.

Not that I can say much new about Courtney at this point. She was fab and fun and cheeky enough to throw a few classic rock poses while playing her indie rock tunes. The crowd near the front seemed sufficiently supportive, and a good singalong broke out to what I think was "Depreston." A tiny part of me hoped that she'd do her cover of Gillian Welch's "Everything Is Free," but a person can hope for only so much at her favorite band's festival. I was overdue to become a fan, and this show clinched it.

On Saturday, I managed to wander off to see Ohmme in one of the courtyards. Of course, I've seen Sima Cunningham on tour with Tweedy, but odds are low that her band will make it to the West Coast soon. I had to take this opportunity while I could. I was pleased to see they're a rocking combo, with both ladies on guitars. Sima's sweet vocals are apparent with Tweedy, but she and Macie Stewart kick out the jams with punk energy. They also covered the B-52's "Give Me Back My Man," which I'm old enough to -- er, never mind. I'd gladly see them play out here, and I hope they can book a date or two in town in the near future.

Saturday also brought both heat and rain. Because of the former, I chose to skip the Minus 5 in Courtyard D, but I've been fortunate enough to have seen various incarnations of the band a jillion times. Still, it would've been nice to see Scott McCaughey in his continuing recovery (though he made an appearance on the main stage on Sunday). Because of the latter, the schedule was slightly trimmed on the main field so that only Cate Le Bon and the Feelies played before Wilco.

Cate Le Bon was a mixed bag for me. About half of her songs were instantly appealing (for what it's worth), while others were perhaps a little too esoteric when you're standing in a field. In a different setting (say, Cafe du Nord), I might've been able to better appreciate the nuances.

However, Jeff did join the band for a couple of songs: "Strangers," the Kinks cover that Jeff occasionally rolls out, and "I Couldn't Say It to Your Face" by Arthur Russell. (I don't actually know the latter, so you can thank Paul for that info.) Jeff and Cate don't seem like a natural pairing, but that's one of the pleasures of self-curated festivals. You get a view into the entirety of a band's interests and influences. It's not so surprising to learn that Jeff enjoys and shares influences with British art folksters.

It goes without saying that the Feelies are American indie rock pioneers, and it was immediately apparent from the first notes of their set. I instantly recognized the guitar style that influenced about half the bands I heard tuning in to KSJS as a teenager. I love masterful production as much as the next person, but that spare, unsullied sound will always get my attention. Jeff also joined the Feelies onstage, this time for Neil Young's "Don't Cry No Tears." (You can thank Paul for that info as well.)

The Feelies and Jeff Tweedy, Solid Sound 2019

Sunday brought the most emphatic storm warning of the weekend. We didn't arrive at the museum until past noon, so we didn't have to evacuate the open areas and take cover in the museum halls to avoid the thunder. (However, we did end up sheltering and eating BBQ in the car until the festival staff gave everyone the green light.)

Jonathan Richman was the sole opener on the main stage. He too is a Solid Sound repeat performer and a longtime Wilco favorite. Several members of the Wilco entourage took in his set, even singing along to his tunes. Jonathan pulled out his signature moves, tunes, and musings for an appreciative crowd. I think we were more surprised by his trusty drummer Tommy, who sported a more rugged and rockier look than I recall. Their light, breezy set was a nice intro on this closing day.

Wilco, Solid Sound 2019Now for the Wilco content! Friday has always been the looser Wilco set. In previous years, we've enjoyed the all-covers show, and last time, the band did a couple of albums in their entirety. This year, we watched Wilco karaoke. Personally, I'm open to these one-offs, and on the whole, the singers did well, even if a few needed a bit of direction from Jeff. I counted at most two clunkers, and a number of the guests were likely in bar bands or had their own YouTube channels. Our group seemed to agree that Bailey from South Bend, Indiana, took top honors with her plaintive but soulful rendition of "True Love Will Find You in the End."

It was no secret that Wilco would bring in a ringer or two among the karaoke performers. The first one was Yuka Honda and a friend, who did a song off Schmilco. Truth be told, they didn't know all the lyrics, and I suspect their appearance was more to show off a rudimentary dance routine than to perform the song. I appreciated the spirit of their performance, if not the execution.

The second ringer turned out to be Sammy Tweedy for "I'm Always in Love," and he sounded great. Two years ago, we saw him sing with Tweedy on a Graham Nash song, but now he took on one of his father's tunes. I couldn't help but think of previous shows where Jeff told stories of Sammy falling asleep at gigs or asking to go home to play video games. It must be so satisfying for his loved ones to see him make his own path into the family tradition.

Last but not least, Courtney Barnett joined the band for "Handshake Drugs." Much like the other singers, she infused the song with her signature vocal style as opposed to Jeff's familiar tone. Jeff himself seemed delighted, especially when she and Nels faced off for that long guitar coda. It was a barrel of fun all around.

Wilco finished out the set in continuation of the karaoke theme; that is, they continued to project the (sometimes incorrect) lyrics behind the band. Kudos to the designer for pairing "Outta Mind (Outta Sight)" -- aka the version featuring sleigh bells -- with a snowflake pattern, and we got one more professional appearance when the ladies from Ohmme and Liam Kazar (also from the Tweedy band) emerged for "California Stars." You'll have no problem finding complaints about the premise of the set, but I'm more than willing to give Wilco the benefit of the doubt when they're trying something new at their own festival.

Wilco usually reserves its more traditional set for Saturday night, when the crowd is at its fullest. Though the band doesn't exactly have hits, repeat concertgoers recognize the more fan-favorite sets and those featuring deeper cuts. Having not seen the band for two years, I couldn't glibly characterize the set. They didn't repeat any songs from Friday night, and they mixed up the tunes with selections from across the band discography. I'm always happy to hear "Laminated Cat," especially because it feels like Wilco is reclaiming the song and not propping up the silos that sometimes exist between Jeff's many projects and writing credits.

Wilco also did a couple of new songs, and I'm not sure how to feel about them yet. Instead, I'll wait to listen to them more attentively when the new record comes out.

The festival closed on Sunday with Jeff's set. If you want to put a label on it, you might call it an extension of his solo tour from the last couple of years, and it started as such with several songs from Warm. But they soon veered into Tweedy territory, and not long after, I realized the new-sounding tunes were from Warmer, not officially released yet.

The set was billed as "Jeff Tweedy and Friends," and those friends indeed arrived, ranging from Josh Kantor (from the Baseball Project and the Boston Red Sox organist) to Amelia from Sylvan Esso to Ohmme to Scott McCaughey to Sammy Tweedy to, of course, Wilco. One of the surprises of the set was "It Must Be Love," which I mostly know as a Madness cover, but as a matter of fact, its roots go further back. Per Solid Sound tradition, they all joined in for "Give Back the Key to My Heart" and "I Shall Be Released." The two songs together were like an extended group hug.

Tweedy and Friends, Solid Sound 2019

Solid Sound both goes too fast and comes too slowly, but as long as Wilco is willing to do this, so am I. See you next time!

See also:
» Solid Sound 2017: when we came here today
» Solid Sound 2015: the whole love
» Solid Sound 2013: the boys are back in town
» Solid Sound 2011: you can tell that i'm not lying
» Solid Sound 2010: trees held us in on all four sides

Sunday, April 21, 2019

set a course that i don't know

Whew, how late and wholly unnecessary is this post? But I haven't abandoned this blog, dammit, so here are my notes on Teenage Fanclub at the Fillmore as part of Noise Pop.

Teenage Fanclub, the Fillmore, February 25, 2019: Thanks to whatever is happening in the music industry these days, I bought my ticket to this show probably five or six months in advance of the performance. I felt pretty silly about it at the time, knowing full well that my beloved Teenage Fanclub would not sell out the Fillmore. Heck, the last time they came to town, they had to move the gig to the Great American Music Hall, likely due to sales. But as a bona fide early freak, I figure it didn't hurt to vote with my consumer dollars, early and often.

The crowd actually filled out respectably -- not bad for a drizzly Monday night. I suspect the Noise Pop tie-in and promotion helped, but it was still nice to see so many lovely faces (including some younger ones) at the show.

The bigger source of trepidation came after buying my ticket: The band's announcement that Gerry Love would no longer tour with them. I adore Teenage Fanclub as a group, but if you forced me to pick whose tunes I love the most, I would make a long speech about the whole outweighing the sum of its parts ... then eventually choose Gerry as the driving force behind my favorite tunes. It's not an easy call, but I know that more than a few times, I'd hear a Teenage Fanclub song, reflect on its brilliance, and realize that Gerry wrote it. Here's an experiment: Listen to Grand Prix and try to imagine it without Gerry's contributions. Not a fun thought, is it?

Teenage Fanclub

But now having seen the retooled band, I have to admit that there may be a bright side to the new configuration. Teenage Fanclub has released so many albums, and the fans have so many favorite deep cuts, that inevitably, we can always name a song or two that we wish they had played but couldn't accommodate at the show. But now, Norman and Raymond have much more opportunity to dig into their catalog. For example, I can't remember when I last heard "Catholic Education" or "The Cabbage." And though it'd be irresponsible to guess at whether or not they missed Gerry's presence, both Norman and Raymond appeared to be in fine spirits all evening.

But never fear, they hit us with many of their classics, including the perennial opener "About You" (speaking of Grand Prix), "The Concept," and many more. I was particularly pleased to hear "Your Love Is the Place Where I Came From." Paul recently reminded me that Nick Hornby championed the tune in Songbook, but I swear that I loved it regardless. It really is a perfect encapsulation of Raymond's hangdog appeal wrapped up in a subtle, earnest number.

In addition, they played at least one new track from their recent recording session, again minus Gerry. To my surprise, it was fairly rocking -- maybe influenced by the recording environment in Hamburg, Germany. Who am I kidding? If they come back to the United States to tour that record, of course I'll grab a ticket.

One more recollection from the evening: As "Everything Flow" began and we old fogies jumped around a ton, I had a flashback to Teenage Fanclub shows of yore (at Slim's, I believe), when the song was pretty much a green light for the ex-pats in the audience to start moshing and shoving everyone around. I'm happy to report that they did not appear to be among us that night, and I for one don't miss them, but I kind of wonder where they might be now.

See also:
» ain't that enough

Thursday, January 17, 2019

this is how i tell it

From one long-running Largo tradition to a newly developing mainstay: Jeff Tweedy's annual (?) winter residency at Largo at the Coronet. Stay a while, Jeff!

Jeff Tweedy, Largo at the Coronet, January 3-4, 6-7, 2019

Now that Jeff has booked his third run at Largo, I suppose these dates no longer count as a rarity, but they remain a massive treat, and I refuse to take them for granted. I hope to make these shows for as long as I can, using as much subterfuge and obfuscation as necessary.

The fact that Jeff had played the West Coast only a few months prior, ostensibly promoting the same material, made me wonder how these shows might differ from the recent tour. Truth be told, the first night felt a bit like a continuation of that tour, albeit with a little rust as Jeff eased back into professional form. When you see Jeff and Wilco enough times, you start to recognize the standby tracks, which help both the audience and the performer(s) gain their footing and suss out one another. The first night included most of the songs that comprised the bulk of the setlist from the fall tour -- a reasonable expectation for Jeff's return.

The second night was another story altogether. Though Jeff kicked off with a couple of Warm tracks, he eventually rolled out some B-sides and Uncle Tupelo songs. However, I was gobsmacked by "Via Chicago," a song I've heard a jillion times at this point, but something about Jeff's cadence, the notes from the harmonica, and maybe even the room's reverence hit me between the eyes and moved me to tears. As much as I love the song, I can't recall the song's inherent loneliness striking me so deeply ever before. As Jeff played the final notes, Evonne and I turned to each other and discovered that we were both drying our eyes. In fact, it was so good that I barely minded the woman sitting next to me who laughed at the opening lines of the song.

I don't know if Jeff did this on purpose, but he made subtle changes to the classic tracks that night. He changed up the cadence and maybe the tunings. Actually, I don't know about the second part, but they weren't the same renditions we're used to. Maybe it was the rust again, or maybe Jeff wanted to try something new. In any case, they sounded amazing.

The somewhat complementary aspect of the first two nights led me to muse if the third and fourth nights would continue this theme, but -- spoiler alert -- they didn't. Instead, Jeff stuck to the core set, then sprinkled in deep cuts of his choice, including brand-new songs from the forthcoming Warmer, his follow-up solo record, expected this spring. Among these tracks, "One Sunday Morning" in particular stuck out to me. I mean, if you can't pull off a wordy, melancholy 12-minute (the studio version, anyway) at Largo, where can you do it? Still, it's not part of the regular rotation, so I tend to pay attention when it comes up.

No one asks anymore, but every now and then, a friend or acquaintance finds it hard to believe that I would see multiple consecutive shows by Jeff and Wilco. This time, I can point to a single song that made the whole trip worthwhile. Last year, Spencer and Sammy took the stage to sing and play a couple of songs. On this occasion, they joined their father for an old British folk tune ("Bright Phoebus," according to Paul), their voices melding in the way that only family can do. Their pride in and love for each other was visible, and I'm sure every face was smiling at the sight and sounds -- none more so than Jeff himself. Chalk it up as another Only at Largo (tm) moment.

Of course, it wasn't all sad songs, as we joined Jeff in singalongs for "Let's Go Rain" and "California Stars," among other tunes (though a couple of audience members raised questions about whether we should lend our vocals if not asked to do so). Jeff also took questions every night and shared a bunch of stories, including a hilarious anecdote about a Best Chest in the West contest at a bar he and his fellow musicians frequented after shows at Mississippi Nights. The questions on the whole, however, were less inspiring.

These shows happened to fall on the same weekend as the Golden Globe Awards, and Jeff plumbed this coincidence for tons of banter during the last two dates. But the scheduling did, in fact, result in some celebs not showing up until Monday night. Jeff had some fun with other California stereotypes, claiming to have used CBD cream for aches and pains in his playing arm. Fortunately, he reported no toilet paper deficits at the Airbnb this time.

Jeff had a different opener every night: Nick Offerman, Sarah Silverman, Tom Pappa, and Jeff Garlin, in that order. Tom Pappa was the most polished of the group, even though he subjected some of your favorite front-row faithful to his banter. The others pulled off less polished, more informal sets (which is often the case at Largo), but were all quite entertaining in their own way.

Finally, Andrew van Baal, who co-directed the Largo movie so long ago, filmed at least two of the shows from this run. It's anyone's guess how this footage will be used or even if the general public will get to see it, but at least we know it's in good hands.

See also:
» sorry charlie honey he's back from LA
» every night is a test
» early in the morning