Monday, September 19, 2016

he slept on a mountain

Wilco, I can't quit you -- as if the last decade-plus of posts hasn't proven so already. When the band added one more show in the Bay Area, a week after the Fillmore residency, plans were set once again.

Wilco, Sound Summit Festival, Sept. 17, 2016: This day bore all the hallmarks of being a terrible decision, not unlike the William and Mary show from years back, when we started out late with very little fanfare, only to catch a fairly cookie-cutter gig. Fortunately, I was wrong, and Oakland International's busy Saturday, my terrible navigation, and Marin's stereotypical crowd couldn't ruin it.

I'm not a huge fan of festival gigs (duh), and we had every reason to believe this would be an obligatory appearance by the band -- that is, the hits versus more obscure tracks, albeit in the current semi-acoustic Schmilco arrangement. Instead, it was an entirely different animal from the Fillmore shows, most tellingly in Nels' electric setup. At the beginning, it sounded like even Nels was reacquainting himself with his pedals and switches, as the notes came off hotter and louder than usual for the first few songs. Overall, it was the right choice for an outdoor gig.

On the whole, we got only a couple of songs that went missing at the Fillmore shows, but the ones that made the cut were welcome, particularly "Handshake Drugs" and "Art of Almost." I've even missed "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart," which I thought was a shoo-in for the 9/11 show (because I'm into setlist no-brainers). I'm starting to think Star Wars will become the forgotten record in Wilco's discography, and the Bay Area got only two shows on that tour: one at the Independent, which few could get into; and Outside Lands, which is -- well -- a festival set. Hearing tracks from that record seems almost like a treat these days, especially when it's the "Cold Slope"/"King of You" sequence.

Wilco, the Fillmore, Sept. 6-7, 9-11, 2016

In one welcome sign of the return of the electric set, Wilco lined up for the four-guitar attack often -- a sight I've missed. Also, Jeff actually had room to walk over to Pat for their collaborative passage on "Impossible Germany," in case you were worried about them ditching that move.

Throughout the show, Jeff was in a great mood. He laughed at his own mistakes, such as forgetting a line here and there, and mocked the toll the altitude supposedly took on his body. Honestly, everything about the show was loose and open, and Jeff seemed to feed off Marin's trademark casual vibe.

Wilco's set was immediately preceded by Los Lobos, which brought up Nels for a guest spot, while a few other band members watched from the side stage. Wilco too turned to guest players: Greg Leisz (who had sat in with Los Lobos), Bill Frissell, and local mainstay Bob Weir. They hit Woody Guthrie for the first couple of numbers, with Nels quickly teaching the chords to Bill before the start of the song. I couldn't see Greg Leisz from where I stood, but I could hear his slide as clear as a whistle. I urge you to check your record collection and take inventory of how many albums he's on. I promise you'll find lots to love.

Last week, "California Stars" with Julian Lage was so damn good, but this night's version was no slouch either. Bill Frisell put in a great showing, what I could hear of Greg Leisz was lovely, and even Bob Weir got in his licks. But just as I thought I knew what was coming, they changed it up and closed it out with "Tomorrow Never Knows" -- aka the best opening drumbeat of all time.

Some time ago, I watched Jon Brion offhandedly advise one of his collaborators at Largo to play an E -- then they launched into this same song. Thus, I'm quite familiar with the improv possibilities of the tune, and anyone who's been to a Largo show with me knows how much I love it.

Onstage, the eight musicians had a ball with the song. Glenn was the star, no doubt, but all the guitarists dug in for their segments, and Nels in particular went nuts with his switches and pedals. Bob Weir not only took one of the guitar leads, he sang too. I'm team #neverdead, but I've grown to expect Bob showing up at local events. I've even seen him sing the national anthem at a Giants game or two. You could almost imagine him riding his bike over to the fest, guitar and guitar case strapped on his back, but it seemed only natural that he'd step in tonight.

That'll probably be my last Wilco show of the year, and it was a great one to go out on. But until the next time, let me put in this request: more Beatles songs always!

See also:
» always hated normal american kids
» i'd be lying if i said it wasn't easy
» everyone wastes my time

Friday, September 16, 2016

always hated normal american kids

The dream is real! Wilco finally brought its five-night residency to San Francisco at, even better, the Fillmore. To be sure, Wilco has a long history of multinight stands at the Fillmore and the Bay Area in general, and this wasn't exactly the Incredible Shrinking Tour of Chicago, but I'll take the simpler arrangement anytime. More important, I lived to tell, so let's go with it.

Wilco, the Fillmore, Sept. 6-7, 9-11, 2016: I've mentioned this factoid approximately a million times on this blog, but in this case, it's worth repeating. My first live Wilco experience was a three-night stand at the Fillmore back in 2000, in support of Mermaid Avenue Vol. II. I had fallen in love with the band's music, particularly Being There, and decided to go to all three shows. Keep in mind: None of my friends at the time liked or even knew about the band, and I'd never them live, not to mention I was still deeply into British music. But anyone who knows me knows I tend to go for all or nothing. I was all in, and clearly, it was one of the best music-related decisions in my life -- because here we are.

At the time we bought tickets, I don't think anyone of us knew the shows would be in support of a new record. And I honestly don't care anymore. If Wilco is playing a reasonably sized venue in town, I'm there. I have faith that they'll figure out a setlist with at least a few beloved deep tracks or offer new arrangements that will awaken my ears.

Wilco, the Fillmore, Sept. 6-7, 9-11, 2016

Even after the news that we'd hear a lot of Schmilco at the shows, my expectations didn't change a lot. Of course I looked forward to the new material, but we Wilco fans aren't married to the album-tour-album-tour cycle. Besides, Wilco has enough songs that they're sure to surface a bunch of underappreciated tracks at any show.

Anyway, this happens to be my favorite way of hearing new music: the live experience. As of this writing, I bought Schmilco today (Sept. 15), but I still don't know all the titles. Of course, I recognize a bunch of songs they played at the shows, and I'm amazed at the transformation to the live form. As with Star Wars, I'm glad I got to hear the music crafted from the ground up in front of me before I had a chance to get comfortable with their studio renditions.

I was lucky enough to go to the original five-night residency (which almost killed me), and I've come to understand it was a true one-off. I wouldn't put it past Wilco to air out the entire discography at some other point, and Jeff has been known to change it up at his solo shows. But this run was marked by a core of songs each night. Schmilco set the foundation, and I came to understand the other evergreen tracks highlighted certain skills among the band.

I'll cite three classics because they are especially significant to me. First off: "Impossible Germany." This has been a staple of Wilco's set for many years now, and there's no arguing its beauty and transcendence, but in a smaller venue, it finally hit me. Jeff often likens concerts and churches in their ability to unite people, and you certainly hear it when the crowd sings along. But I'd argue that "Impossible Germany" has become the centerpiece of Wilco's live show. You can hear the excitement and anticipation build with Nels' solo, then giving way to the roars as he returns to the song's framework. I told a friend/newbie it was Wilco's masterpiece, which I didn't really understand until this run of shows.

Wilco, the Fillmore, Sept. 6-7, 9-11, 2016

The other song is "Spiders," which is sort of a companion piece to "Impossible Germany." Wilco actually mixed up this tune more than usual, playing it at increased speed. In earlier incarnations, the guitar solos were the catharsis -- they still are -- but there was no mistaking the new emphasis on Glenn. Much as Nels guides an integral part of "Impossible Germany," Glenn did the same with "Spiders," as all eyes went to him during an extended solo until he damn well wanted to end it. The two showcases couldn't be more welcome.

Finally: "Misunderstood." Back to old hoary tales -- this song scared the shit out of me at the aforementioned 2000 shows. But it and the band have changed over the years, to the point where it's currently acoustic and hushed, most notably in the trademark "nothing" parade. There's probably a more encompassing analogy between the band's and the song's development, but I'm not the one to say. Instead, listen and enjoy.

The songs between the mainstays sometimes followed a theme or at least a spotlight album. It's a no-brainer my favorite was Friday night and the Being There encore. It would be too much of a pain to name all the favorite deep tracks, so I'll simply say I loved every opportunity for us to sing along in unison. Also, I will fight people over the excellence of Sky Blue Sky.

One special notice goes to Julian Lage, who joined the band for a handful of songs on the last night. I've heard many, many guests on "California Stars," and even the big names kind of punch the clock on the song. I mean, it's always fun and sweet, but holy cow, Julian took it to another level. It's no exaggeration to say it's the best guest appearance I've ever heard for the song. I hope everyone in the room recognized the brilliance.

Jeff didn't disappoint with his banter either. Wednesday was the best night in that regard, though I won't embarrass the subject further (if he's reading), except to say it was hilarious. I'll replay that beat after "We Aren't the World (Safety Girl)" in my head forever. Also, I'll never say no to Jeff telling the Fillmore audience that we are the best in the world. We know ... and we love it.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the added joy of all the wonderful friends who came to town for the shows. Hope you enjoyed San Francisco summer and public transport! Please come back any time. Also, thanks for putting up with me reminding everyone endlessly that I had a 10K on Sunday morning. As of this writing, I'm still recovering, but it was entirely worth it.

See also:
» i'd be lying if i said it wasn't easy
» i've run out of metaphors

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

to be out of place

This one is especially late, but (1) I was still on vacation, and (2) I had to get over my jetlag. But here's my report on Wilco in Zagreb, Croatia, for the the Inmusic Festival.

Wilco, Inmusic Festival, June 22, 2016: Yes, I've traveled across international borders to see Wilco before, but I promise this show was a total coincidence. We had already planned a vacation in Croatia -- then Wilco announced a date at Zagreb's Inmusic Festival after the calendar was set and vacation time was requested. Truth be told, we rescheduled our itinerary a smidge to return to Zagreb after a diversion, but overall, it was no bother.

Not long ago, one of the appeals of seeing Wilco in Europe was the relative size of the venues. Simply put, Wilco is not as big in Europe, and you could still enjoy club gigs. I hear those days are gone, but when it comes to festivals, the smaller scale remains. At Inmusic, Wilco played a dream slot for us: on the last day of the festival, second to last on the bill, with a 6:30 start time. (Never mind that they were left off all the posters and signage we saw around town!) We took our time getting to the gig, due in part to our disregard for a sign helpfully directing us to the entrace, endured only one other band, and best of all, planned to get dinner after the show. The crowd was sparse when we arrived, and we had no problem taking our usual spots.

Wilco, Inmusic Festival, June 22, 2016

I last saw Wilco last summer, shortly after the release of Star Wars, so I got the album-heavy shows. Even the band's Outside Lands appearance stuck to the script at the time. Coming into Inmusic, I wasn't sure what to expect of the setlist.

As it turned out, a decent amount of Star Wars remains, which you might expect, as it's the most recent album, but overall, the band stuck to a more typical festival set. Keep in mind, this was a 75-minute slot, not a headlining show, so it was going to be shorter anyway. We generally got the rockier Star Wars tracks, accompanied by many band favorites and a couple of deep album tracks ("Art of Almost," "Late Greats"). In fact, "Art of Almost" was sort of the surprise, as Nels was caught in technical issues for a good chunk of the song. The band played on patiently, waiting for the fix. They eventually solved the problem, and Nels came roaring back in. Jeff later called it the "extended version" of the tune.

Highlights of the set for me include the divine "Cold Slope"/"King of You" double shot and the eternally artful "Impossible Germany." A comedic moment took place during "Via Chicago," which moved the young security guards at the front of the stage to crane their necks to investigate the din onstage, notably during Glenn's big drum breaks. I guess they didn't get the memo that these American gentlemen might be more than unassuming folkies.

By the way, the crowd was pretty good at the front, and they filled out the field by the time Wilco took the stage. For the most part, they really liked clapping to the beat, with mixed results. I don't know how many native English speakers were in attendance, but at least a few other Americans were present, and we heard plenty of voices singing along. Let's put it this way: They outdrew the previous band by a wide margin.

We didn't stick around for the rest of the bands, though it might've been nice to see PJ Harvey if her onstage time wasn't in the middle of the night. Still, the ticket was a bargain compared to U.S. prices and a fantastic start to our Croatia sojourn. We also had a chance run-in with one of the staffers in Zagreb's city center, so yes, it was a good day.

Wilco in Europe? I'd do it again in a heartbeat.

See also:
» a party there that we ought to go to
» every song's a comeback
» the gray fountain spray of the great milky way
» i'd be lying if i said it wasn't easy
» everyone wastes my time