Saturday, November 25, 2006

wherever you go, wherever you land

My formerly rigid rules of rock tourism now resemble vague suggestions, but a few things remain constant: As long as you have good friends and good music, you're set. But when you also chance upon the combination of a local hostess/tour guide, a relatively balmy Midwestern late fall day, a flexible work situation, a general admission venue, and frequent-flyer miles, then there's no turning back.

Jeff Tweedy, Barrymore Theater, November 22, 2006Wilco, Barrymore Theater, November 22, 2006: As a music fan, it's rare that you get a chance to go back in time and see a band in their old stomping grounds. The cycle of rock music usually requires most bands to move on, toward the next peak. If you even get the chance to look back, the band is either a total washout at that point, or the show itself is so exclusive that no mere mortal outside of the music industry can hope to snag a ticket.

Wilco, bless 'em, are not one of those bands. Though they're more likely to play theaters and bigger venues these days, they sometimes venture back to the clubs that nurtured them. In fact, if you crank up the Wilco Time Machine, you'll find that it's been six years and about a week since the band last played the Barrymore Theater in Madison, Wisconsin. That night, they also played a ditty called "The Colon Song." Sweet dreams are made of this...

Nels Cline, Barrymore Theater, November 22, 2006In lieu of that off-the-cuff composition, we got six new songs, at least two of which ("Shake It Off" and "What Light") I hadn't heard before in person, and another I hadn't heard with the full band treatment ("Is That the Thanks I Get"). Actually, we had heard part of "Shake It Off" at soundcheck in Latrobe, and it struck me as a very much like a Cat Power ditty, circa Moon Pix. Hearing the whole tune, though, I take back some of that; "Shake It Off" definitely develops into something else altogether, though I'm not sure how to characterize it just yet.

Meanwhile, "What Light" was dedicated to John Stirrat's newborn baby girl--only to be followed by Jeff forgetting the opening lines and the band starting all over again. "Let's Not Get Carried Away" and "Impossible Germany" were both mesmerizing in their own very distinctive ways, while "Walken" and "Is That the Thanks I Get" showed off the rootsy, catchy style that Wilco has long been known for.

The band members themselves were loose and low key. Jeff admitted that there might've been some mistakes but blamed them on the fact that the group had been up all night, boiling water and tearing up towels to prepare for John's baby. Even the mighty Nels Cline made a rare misstep during "Muzzle of Bees," though he comically tried to play it off when Jeff's eyes went to him ("Half of it's you/Half of it's me"). I think he redeemed himself when he named the new song, "The Kingpin." Other fun asides: Jeff perching on the monitor for "Hummingbird," Nels commending Paul for his "The Kingpin" howl and Dick for his Plimsouls (LA represent!) t-shirt, a teeth-baring drummer, a full-band salute to the openers, and several bouquets making their way to the stage.

Detholz, Barrymore Theater, November 22, 2006After last month's report, I realized I hadn't mentioned the opening bands, and quite frankly, I'm too lazy to amend my posts now, but I have to give some love to Detholz. A lot of people I trust and respect have said great things about these guys, and they were all right on the money.

I can't say much about Detholz except that you gotta add them to the "you have to see it to believe it" list of musicians. Their energy is immeasurable, and their songs were a hoot and a holler too. Ordinarily, I shy away from bands who wear their '80s influences so prominently, but Detholz really made the sound their own. If they don't watch out, Beck is totally going to steal their keyboardist one of these days. God, I hope they come to California some time.

See also:
» don't want to hurt no pandas

Monday, November 20, 2006

i remember finding out about you

Funny place, that Largo. After you've finally made peace with the idea that Jon Brion is doing only one set these days and that you'll be out the door a little after midnight, he turns in (basically) two sets rolled into a single session. Go figure.

Jon Brion, Largo, November 17, 2006: After last month's supermoody show, I felt some trepidation, not least because we had three newbies (Trish, John, and Kyle), one near-newbie (Maudie), and one birthday girl (Brianne) among our eight seats. Though I filed all caveats ahead of time, they didn't cancel on us, and slight relief came when Mike at the door announced that the cover charge for the night would be $15, to accommodate the "special guests." I try not to overanticipate any particular show or potential guests, but Jon seems more likely to perk up when his friends join him onstage, which, in turn, translates to a peppier show.

We couldn't help guessing at who the mystery performers might be, and the question was partly answered when we took our seats and noticed a pedal steel guitar among the night's instruments. I figured Greg Leisz would be joining in, which thrilled those of us who had seen last month's cavalcade of stars. John, however, gave me a funny look and informed me that no one else considered that a star sighting. Bwahahahaha.

Soon enough, Jill Sobule took the stage for a short, charming set. Coincidentally, Jill opened the only other time Maudie has seen Jon Brion--we're guessing they must share a psychic bond. No, we didn't get "Hot in Herre" this time, but Jill pointedly dropped Paris Hilton's name during the opening song, "Bitter," about people getting by (or not) on their actual talents. Tonight, Greg Leisz added his distinctive touch to her basic tunes and sounded as if he had lived with them for the last 10 years, though the two had met only 10 minutes before.

Flanagan came back to the stage to introduce Jon, who apparently had just returned from England. Cutting a dapper figure in a pinstriped suit with western-style front pockets, Jon went to one of his hollow-body guitars for, I'm guessing, an instrumental medley. Evonne and I exchanged a couple of ideas for what we might've heard. My guess: "I'm in the Mood for Love," but I can't guarantee that he actually played it.

I think the pedal demo started as Jon trying to determine which guitar he wanted next, but instead, we got a short explanation of how certain switches add or subtract from the guitar's tones. He touched the keyboards for a bit, just to make sure they were working, but his real intentions resided elsewhere. Instead, he built up "Girl I Knew" with slightly different phrasing than I'm used to. It was a bit more languid--resigned, perhaps?--and not as crisp and syncopated as usual.

I still hadn't quite gauged the feel of the night, as Jon hadn't spoken much, and the next two songs on the piano didn't help either, as they were two of his more contemplative tunes. OK, I admit it, "The Way It Went" is an outright downer--there, I said it.

But accompanying Jon's relative reticence was the audience's silence. Most of the time, the audience doesn't wait for Jon to ask for requests before they yell out titles, but there was something about tonight's tone that seemed to keep us from imposing on Jon's mental state. We mostly stayed quiet, and Jon proceeded apace with what turned out to be mostly his own compositions.

Back on electric guitar, Jon turned in "That's Just What You Are," again with a little tweak in phrasing. He tried out a bunch of his harmonicas and found them unsatisfactory until Samy brought out a specific model. With the proper equipment, he launched into "Knock Yourself Out" on the celeste--just about the most charming version of the tune I've ever heard.

The rock returned with "I'm Further On," a song whose recent absence I'd been thinking of earlier that day. Happily, the drought was over, though it wasn't without its hurdles. While Jon switched instruments at the beginning of the song, his guitars became a bit entangled, and he ended up with one that didn't have a strap. We saw him contorting himself in various ways to get a handle on the guitar, including kneeling on the floor to support it and holding it up high on his body, à la George Harrison. The song itself seemed to bring out something in Jon, moving him to jump around the stage and grin happily through passages. He turned in a maniacal solo that required many of the pedals he had demonstrated to us earlier and brought it to a close on a big rock ending.

This song may have wrought unexpected side effects as well. I couldn't help but notice that after taking his seat at the piano, Jon was rubbing his right arm. The tendinitis question remains, of course, and it was the first time since July that I've seen him show any discomfort onstage. I, for one, don't assume that Jon's all better, but I can always use a reminder that this whole thing can go up in smoke yet again.

Nonetheless, Jon followed up with "Strings That Tie to You," embellished with ethereal piano loops. He remained on the piano for a jazzy instrumental that I recognized as a deconstructed "Someone to Watch Over Me." Expanding on this lead, he built it up to its anthemic glory, still bringing to (my) mind more Bowie than Gershwin.

Though we didn't realize it at the time, this effectively ended the first half of the show, as Jon brought on his old friends Benmont Tench and Greg Leisz--a.k.a. 3/7 of the astounding supergroup that had recently graced Largo. Personally, these three were my favorite members, though I wouldn't have minded David Rawlings showing up and chipping in.

Whatever verbal communication goes on between these guys has to be pretty subtle, as even in the front row of tables, we can barely hear any words exchanged. Still, they seem to follow, lead, prod, support, encourage, and inspire each other with little more than a glance, a nod, or a grin. Early in their set, Jon joked about doing all Dylan covers; as it turned out, a preferred artist emerged, but it wasn't Bob.

I remember thinking that "Isn't It a Pity" sounded fairly traditional, but "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" had a palpable poignancy that had me holding my breath. Something about the spare instrumentation, Jon's purposeful stance and gaze, the musicians' soloing turns, and the beauty of the song itself added up to a powerful, moving performance.

During the slight lull that followed, I took advantage of the silence to request "I'll Be Back" since I knew that it could be done with an acoustic guitar and a lap steel. Besides, I wanted to hear what Benmont could do with it; he didn't disappoint.

Jon professed his love of "I Don't Hurt Anymore," and my Beatlemania hardly minded "Day After Day." As usual, Jon requested "egregious" slapback for "Why Do You Do This to Yourself," and Scott obliged with "the kind you can't get over the counter." To my delight, Jon added touches of falsetto and cooing passages, and the tune took on a wistful, high lonesome sound. It wasn't what I expected, but it was an awesome twist on a familiar selection.

Just when I thought that we had settled into our groove for the night, Jon threw a curveball in the form of a Pixies song that briefly morphed into "Jessie's Girl," before giving way to "Taxman" and finally an overlay of "Within You, Without You."

The group loosely convened to decide on the last song of the night, though Jon didn't explicitly inform either Benmont or Greg of his decision. Instead, he asked them for eight bars, which made us laugh and Benmont sort of gape. But Jon plowed on, and within three beats, I knew exactly--well, sort of--what was coming next: "Tomorrow Never Knows." True to form, it went on for at least 20 minutes, as the three of them played their fingers off. I loved that Jon re-created the cut-up tape sequences live on guitar, while Greg's lap steel found a home on this most unlikely of Beatles songs.

But somewhere in this musical maelstrom, I noticed familiar chords coming from the piano--Benmont was dropping "Day Tripper" into the mix, and Jon picked up on it as well. Between the two of them, they visited at least a dozen Beatles songs that I recognized and probably twice as many that went right past me.

By the end, "She's So Heavy" had fully taken hold. While Benmont picked out a beautiful passage, Jon set down his guitar and fell to his hands and knees, slapping the pedals off before moving to the drum set for the ending coda.

By then, it was about 1:30, and Jon was still hanging around and chatting with fans as we left the club. But the night wasn't exactly over yet. On our way to the car, we noticed an improbably dressed figure sidling into the Dime, as well as a video camera following her moves from afar. Holy shit, it was Paris Hilton, the recording artist herself. Her driver even backed his SUV into our spot after we left. Is there such a thing as coincidence in Los Angeles? I don't think so!

Jill Sobule setlist
--Bobbie Gentry*
--Now That I Don't Have You*
--Ring Them Bells*

* = with Greg Leisz

Jon Brion setlist
--guitar instrumental
--pedal demo
--Girl I Knew [song build]
--The Way It Went [piano]
--Eternal Sunshine theme [piano]
--That's Just What You Are [electric guitar]
--Knock Yourself Out [celeste + harmonica]
--I'm Further On [song build]
--Strings That Tie to You [piano]
--Someone to Watch Over Me (jazzy instrumental version) [piano]
--Someone to Watch Over Me (rock version) [song build]
--Isn't It a Pity**
--It's All Over Now, Baby Blue**
--I'll Be Back**
--I Don't Hurt Anymore**
--Day After Day**
--Why Do You Do This to Yourself**
--Gigantic/Jesse's Girl/Taxman/Within You, Without You**
--Tomorrow Never Knows/Day Tripper/She Said, She Said/I Want You/Ob La Di, Ob La Da/Dear Prudence/Baby You're a Rich Man/a thousand other Beatles riffs**
--She's So Heavy**

** = with Benmont Tench and Greg Leisz

See also:
» just for one day
» Gillian, David, Sean, Sara, Jon, Greg
» i'll be back again
» can't really spell it out

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Brian Wilson I Love You

Thanks to Josh from the Lylas for recommending this show to me. I definitely don't get out enough in this city these days, and I'm always glad when I can support a deserving band.

Prabir and the Substitutes, Rockit Room, November 16, 2006: When a band opens with an original composition called "Brian Wilson I Love You," you gotta have an idea of what their influences might be. Prabir and his band certainly knew how to work the multipart harmonies, but they showed off a whole range of other styles as well, such as garage pop and even an a cappella treatment. Some of their songs were more smart-alecky ("Everybody Has Someone to Fuck But Me"), but they showed real emotion and poignancy too. They promised a free MP3 of a song called "Slow" to anyone who joined their mailing list, and to hear it, you'd have no problem guessing why they wanted to pimp out the tune. It was a cool, catchy rocker, the very definition of power pop. If there were any justice in the world, it'd be a huge hit.

Prabir and the Substitutes, Rockit Room, November 16, 2006The thing that really struck me about them, besides their great voices and well-constructed tunes, was how tight they were. When I see these up-and-coming bands, I sort of expect them to be loose and mellow. But Prabir and the Substitutes had to hit some pretty unforgiving marks--and at least to these ears, they met them all.

Oddly, Prabir and the Substitutes went on last, though I thought they were second on the bill. The supposed headliner was actually the middle band, the Parties. As a local group, the Parties got a huge reception--apparently from the singer's coworkers in attendance that night. They were fun, actually, betraying a huge nod to the British Invasion. But this meant that Prabir and friends faced a diminishing crowd by the time they hit the stage. Unfortunately, I was unable to scare up any pals (from my ever shrinking circle of candidates) who wanted to come along, so by the bitter end, the audience seemed to mostly comprise people in the bands who played earlier that night. The guys still played their hearts out, however, and reminded me of how important it is to catch these young bands when possible.

See also:
» Prabir and the Substitutes official page
» Prabir and the Substitutes on MySpace

Sunday, November 05, 2006

there's nothing I wouldn't do, including doing nothing

I'm deathly afraid (well, as much as a woman who proudly maintains a pristine, 20-year-old Star Hits collection can be) of falling prey to '80s nostalgia, but every now and then, I can't resist catching a band from my teenage years. I mean, you'll never find me at a Cure or Depeche Mode gig, and I even gave up on Duran Duran years ago, but when Scritti Politti--on their first-ever tour of North America, no less--announces a show, I have to be there.

Scritti Politti, Slim's, November 2, 2006: It's probably a good thing that Scritti Politti didn't come around when I was younger, as there would've been no way for me to see them live, and I would've been left stewing for the last 20-odd years. Instead, I watched the videos, pored over Green Gartside's Derrida- and Lacan-inflected interviews, and drooled over the singer from the comfort of my own home. Apparently, "Perfect Way" was a huge hit all over the country, but in my backwater, non-Brit-loving corner of San Jose known as Sylvandale Junior High, I had no idea it had any hold on the populace outside of me and my circle of friends.

I struggle every time I blog about '80s music, though not for lack of words or material. Rather, I wrestle with two decades' worth of recollections, distractions, and chagrin before I approach anything resembling relevance. I also find it difficult to feign impartiality about the era; it was only around the turn of the century that I realized not every song needed huge drum fills and glossy Fairlight samples. Seriously, I just assumed that was the way modern music was supposed to sound. Bwahahahahahahahaha.

Scritti Politti, Perfect Way screenshotStill, I maintain that Scritti Politti's "Perfect Way" is a pristine slice of '80s pop culture. Music writers much more knowledgeable than myself have defended the tune's production values, but I can assure you that the video, directed by the team of Peter Kagan and Paula Greif, marked a major turning point for the decade's promo clips.

You may not know Kagan and Greif by name, but most likely, you're no stranger to their artsy, quick-cut style, which was a huge antidote to the overarching mini movies such as "Thriller," "Like a Virgin," "Let's Dance," and *gulp* "Hungry Like the Wolf" dominating MTV at the time. Their videos alternated between footage that was supersaturated and black-and-white, unfinished and polished, shot in slo mo and real time, and they featured the beauties who would later comprise the first (and greatest) wave of supermodels: Christy Turlington, Tatjana Patitz, and Veronica Webb, to name a few.

In fact, Paula Greif was one of the creators of the anti-video look on the Smiths' groundbreaking "How Soon Is Now," and that clip's grainy texture and discordant feel would be common elements in the duo's videos. Ironically, the team would go on to direct videos for Steve Winwood ("Higher Love") and Duran Duran ("Notorious," "Skin Trade," and "Meet El President"), among others, but "Perfect Way" hit the airwaves before the big names came calling, and it showed off all their visual trademarks. Unfortunately, nearly every metal video from 1987 on would bastardize this look, but for a brief window of time, it was solely the calling card of style-savvy bands.

Scritti Politti, Slim's, November 2, 2006The point of this detour: such is the power of the "Perfect Way" video that I didn't realize Green Gartside played an instrument! Deep down, I probably knew that he did something other than button his shirt to the top (such a fashion statement of the time), push his preternaturally floppy hair out of his big blue eyes, and make teenage girls sigh. Perhaps.

So the sight of Green playing a guitar (adorned by, appropriately, a big Philosophy sticker) at Slim's was a bit jarring, but it was overshadowed by other revelations. For one, he's now on Nonesuch--home to a certain band I like so much, as well as the label that released a particular movie soundtrack containing one of my favorite songs of all time by my preferred working film composer.

Also, never in a million years could my 14-year-old self have anticipated that the handsome Welshman would become a respected and evangelistic hip-hop acolyte in the '90s. We got a few of the hip-hop collaborations at this show and a Jeru the Damaja cover, with Green apologetically filling in for the absent rappers. I think my favorite song of the night was "Die Alone," a slinky duet with Me'Shell NdegéOcello (not present). Then again, Scritti Politti has always had a funkier bent, and even the band's pop-era singles have displayed a reggae lilt; I had no business being so surprised.

Scritti Politti, Slim's, November 2, 2006Backing Green was a five-piece band with a fairly elaborate setup. The drummer had two different kits: one analog (?), the other electric. I counted no fewer than four Apple laptops onstage. And one player, besides filling in on percussion, keyboards, and bass guitar, seemed to have been primarily entrusted with switching out Green's lyrics sheets. They all looked like they were having fun, though, and Green seemed as relaxed as he could be around them.

They played a mix of old and new, and Green understandably afforded more exposition to the newer songs, such as "Mrs. Hughes," about a former English teacher who told him that he wouldn't amount to anything and her equally dire husband. He seemed fairly pragmatic about the old songs, and of course "The Word Girl" and "Wood Beez" got huge responses from the audience. My mind was seized by an alarming image of a room full of aging '80s dancers flooding Slim's main floor, but the familiar synth opening and that one shimmering guitar riff in "Wood Beez" brought my mind back to the music. As I understand it, the band has sworn off "Perfect Way," but I didn't mind the absence.

For all the reports of Green's stage fright, he seemed to have a firm handle on the situation. He was self-deprecating and charming, and he brought in the other players often. His singing voice is exactly the same in concert as it is on the records, but his speaking voice is, for lack of a better word, normal--and posh. The only small blot was that he wasn't feeling well and skipped four songs on the setlist, though he begged off in a ridiculously sweet manner. A few songs in, he even asked the club management to bring him a banana to eat so that he wouldn't black out (they obliged). At the end, he told us that we were the best audience ever. It might've meant more if he weren't notorious for never touring, but after 20 years of waiting, we're easy that way.

Since I've already been so inelegant and heavy-handed in my gushing references to Green's appearance, I might as well come clean and devote a whole section to it. The floppy, frosted hair has been replaced by a much shorter and more natural crop and a goatee, but he looked at least 10 years younger than his age (51?!?). Following a fervent round of YouTubing/Googling a bunch of old clips and interviews (did you know Miles Davis covered "Perfect Way"?!?), I decided he was far too pretty in the '80s--very generous of me, I know. Now, with his blue hoodie, green DC Shoes t-shirt, and matching Converse, he's the epitome of the hip, attractive older man. Sigh.

And if that isn't a sign I need to stop right now, I don't know what is. Thanks for humoring me. Please join me again when I return to the 21st century.

See also:
» Star Hits: a tribute

Saturday, November 04, 2006


The denouement of a whirlwind weekend! Thanks to my friends for coming along for the ride (and the urban hike).

Nels Cline Group, Herbst Theatre, October 29, 2006: Back in April, Nels told us about his busy schedule, including a potentially action-packed Halloween weekend that would've comprised a Wilco show in Las Vegas and his own show as part of the San Francisco Jazz Fest. Of course, this rock tourist immediately started plotting a jetset adventure that would cover Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and San Francisco, and amazingly, a few friends jumped on the bandwagon immediately. In the end, we did only two of the aforementioned cities, but that was plenty.

So we went to see our third Nels Cline project in a little more than a week, and once again, the man surprised and amazed. Wilco is sort of the odd man out in this grouping, but this show was different from the LACMA show only a couple of days before. For one thing, Nels was the clear leader tonight, though that's not to say he's an attention hog of any sort. Rather, his most visible contributions, aside from his guitarwork, were calling a few musical cues, such as bringing the band back from an improvisational bender on "Not Sa No Sa."

Nels is a consummate team player, and every player got their solo opportunities. I especially enjoyed the horns, but the electric accordion added an unexpected touch. Of course, the sextet was anchored by Scott Amendola, Devin Hoff, and Nels himself--a.k.a. the Nels Cline Singers. Their extensive experience playing together and listening to each other came through emphatically on the suite "No Doubt / 11/8 / Dance with Death." The group ended with "Pumpkin," a short piece that sounded almost rock 'n' roll in performance that night.

We stuck around for the headliner, and boy, am I glad we did, if only so that I could discover how radical a spin Nels had put on the original compositions. Andrew Hill himself looked very frail, and his voice could barely be heard, even without the applause. Perhaps as a trade-off, he put a lot of faith in his group members, especially Charles Tolliver on trumpet, but he also called a few shots. For example, he urged the horn players to return for one song and guided the bass player through another selection. I don't know enough about jazz to explain what I heard, except to say that it was not the easy listening variety commonly heard in storefronts or even the brand of fusion practiced by Nels.

I'd like to thank Heidi and Paul for not flinching at the idea of spending less than 24 hours in San Francisco for a jazz show. I hope it was worth it!

See also:
» don't want to hurt no pandas
» just for one day

Friday, November 03, 2006

just for one day

It's always kinda funny when rock tourism trips piggyback each other. Less than a week after visiting the Appalachians and the Eastern Continental Divide, we were on the other edge of the country. There are worse fates in life.

Jeff Gauthier Goatette, LACMA, October 27, 2006: How convenient that Nels Cline was playing a free show on the Miracle Mile on the same night we had a reservation for Largo! We slipped into our seats not long before the music started. We had warned the poor man of our attendance the week before, but he still seemed surprised to see us in the audience.

Nels Cline and Jeff Gauthier, LACMA, October 27, 2006I believe the Goatette comprised the same people who played at Yoshi's back in May, and they hit at least one of the same songs: "Solflicka," which elicited a similar response from Heidi as it had from me when I first heard it. Sadly, Alex Cline didn't play the gong this time, but we got a couple other wonderful Jeff Gauthier compositions--namely, "Clea's Bounce" and "Enfant."

We took off for Largo during the first intermission but only after delivering the Andrew Hill football shirt I had long intended to get to Nels. He claimed it wasn't goofy, and I thank him for accepting it so gracefully.

Jon Brion, Largo, October 27, 2006: Before we left the LACMA, Nels mentioned that he planned to drop in at Largo that night to say hello to his old friend, Jon Brion. I don't know if our constant reminders had anything to do with it, but it was great news to our ears. And in fact, we saw Nels's familiar profile in the back of the room before the show began. He and Jon seemed to share a short chat and a heartfelt hug before Jon took the stage--charm all around.

But first off, Greg Proops opened the show. His monologue covered some familiar territory, but he managed to make them sound new. He seemed to think that he was bombing and turned it back on us, but he seemed to be doing OK from where I was sitting. His best line of the night came from a riff on the McCartney-Mills divorce, but that's the last thing I can say about him. Just see him yourself.

Back to the show: There's been no official proclamation (as if there ever is one), but it seems that Jon's tendinitis is currently at bay. Of course, a couple of weeks ago, he played a big part in what may be my favorite Largo show ever, and he even entertained at Largo the Friday before.

In retrospect, the clues were out there right from the beginning. When the crowd responded fairly positively to his top-of-the-show greeting, he commented that at least some people had enjoyed a good week; his tone clearly indicated that he didn't align himself with the cheery folk.

For his opening noodle (thanks Heidi!), he embarked on his trademark long-form piano improv, but this week's exercise sounded more ominous than usual. At the end, he said something about it being a "pro-suicide anthem," though he also joked that those chords would later become "Stairway to Heaven." Much later, Heidi noted that she suspected it was an opaque spin on "You Don't Know What Love Is," and I wouldn't argue with her.

I think it was at this point that Jon mentioned he had missed soundcheck but not by his own design. Rather, he had been stuck in a hotel elevator. Though he was only a couple of floors off the ground, the hotel had given him free drink tickets to placate any potentially litigious urges.

For the next selection, he mentioned a conversation he had with a friend about drug-influenced music from the '70s and said that he didn't want to do too many covers that night. Neither point stopped him from what was a debut for me: a song build of "Boys Keep Swinging." Jon read most of the lyrics from the songbook I-Ching, but he took care of all the instrumentation himself.

He stayed on electric guitar for two of his own songs: "Why Do You Do This to Yourself" and--more surprising--"Trouble." I hadn't heard the latter in a while, and it was a treat.

Jon sat down at the piano for "If I Only Had a Brain." He plays it as incidental music quite often, but he actually sang a couple of verses this time, and with a small grin on his face, at that. The song morphed into "Same Mistakes," still on the piano.

Around this time, the requests started flooding in from the audience, but the downbeat titles weren't working for him, and he said he needed to rock out. Thus, we got "Happy with You," which definitely lifted the mood.

The effect was temporary, as the next song build turned into an extended instrumental that resembled a coalescing storm. Throughout the night, Jon had technical difficulties, and the mechanical shortcomings reared their head prominently on this composition. We suspect that he was trying to take it one way but that it didn't work out. Instead, we got "Walking Through Walls" with a murky backing track instead of the roaring syncopation and the clean pacing that usually accompanies the song.

It was back to basics for "Knock Yourself Out," followed by a long song build that took forever for me to figure out. When I finally put the pieces together, I wanted to jump out of my chair in anticipation of what is perhaps the greatest guitar solo ever. It was "Heroes," which I haven't heard at Largo for far too long. Jon's singular twists on the song included a gorgeous little piano trill and a country-and-western-style guitar bridge sprinkled gingerly throughout.

Jon asked Nels to come up to the stage, but alas, we'll never know what they might've concocted, as Nels had left by then. Instead, Jon chose to close out the set with a singalong. He asked us for requests and took a long time considering our suggestions. Upon hearing "Dancing Queen" bandied about, he opined that most of us didn't really know that or many other popular songs and dared us to come up with the second verse. Oddly, he didn't give us a chance to prove or disprove his theory; after he agreed to "Daydream Believer," he did all of the verses himself anyway. I'm happy to say we didn't let him down on the choruses.

The true closer was the Cheers theme, another first for me. And it was very appropriate, as everyone really does know Jon's name at Largo. It'd be foolish to think Jon escaped the cloud hanging over his head during the course of his show, but bless him for putting on a show anyway.

The setlist:
--Greg Proops opener

--Casio + piano + celeste noodling
--Boys Keep Swinging [song build]
--Why Do You Do This to Yourself [electric guitar]
--Trouble [electric guitar]
--If I Only Had a Brain [piano]
--Same Mistakes [piano]
--Happy with You [song build]
--stormy instrumental
--Walking through Walls [song build]
--Knock Yourself Out [acoustic guitar + harmonica]
--Heroes [song build]
--Daydream Believer [piano]
--Cheers theme [piano]

See also:
» mask
» Gillian, David, Sean, Sara, Jon, Greg
» don't want to hurt no pandas

Thursday, November 02, 2006

don't want to hurt no pandas

Believe it or not, it's been six months since I've seen Wilco proper, and even Wilco-related shows have been scarce in the past few months. But the band is nothing if not industrious, and the fall typically brings a round of touring. It's been a while since I've had the chance to catch three general admission gigs in a row; that Heidi's home could serve as a base of operation sweetened the deal considerably, and of course, the company is always the clincher. Unfortunately, the trip also coincided with a crazy work week for me, but these hard-core credentials don't come free.

Wilco, Mountainlair, October 18, 2006: Though Heidi was the only one of us who'd been to West Virginia before, seeing the university brought on a distinct sense of déjà vu. It reminded us a lot of UC San Diego and the Price Ballroom. That is, it was a flat conference room with questionable acoustics, though the Mountainlair was a little smaller. I'm sure the people in the back had a helluva time seeing the stage, but we had a great view from our spots along the barrier.

This show had a huge cloud hanging over it: an incident between Jeff and a drunk, overzealous fan from a couple of days before. The story had become an uproar, fueled by sensationalistic and erroneous reports of Jeff inflicting violence on the guy. We weren't sure how Jeff would handle the inevitable heckling, and we were a little nervous about finding out.

Wilco, Mountainlair, October 18, 2006Of course, it went fine. The crowd wasn't bad at all, except for the dumb guy next to Paul and Heidi who repeatedly yelled at Jeff to kiss someone. And Jeff actually defused the situation himself; he didn't speak early on, but when he did, he assured everyone he wouldn't punch them. He obviously felt relaxed enough with the audience that he emerged for the encore in the university jersey, and they enjoyed his presence enough that they joined in the "Morganton" call-and-response for "Kingpin."

At one point, I had an idea of how many Wilco shows I've attended, but right now, I've completely lost track of that number. Obviously, it's a lot. And yes, even I ask myself why I continue to do this. Here's the short answer, which I didn't recognize until the Morgantown show: I love watching the band's chemistry onstage, especially Nels Cline's interactions with his bandmates.

I've made no bones about my Nels fandom, but in addition to being an amazing guitarist, he never looks bored onstage. Since I last saw them, Nels and Mikael Jourgenson have developed a charming little rapport on their half of the stage. Nels and Glenn even embarked on a coheadlining tour, and you could see their continually developing camaraderie as they play together.

But the best part of the show was hearing the new songs. Not long ago, I would've tracked down the new tunes as they hit the Internet, but I've taken a somewhat laissez-faire (for me, anyway) attitude with Wilco recently. I caught a couple new tunes on the Lollapalooza Webcast, but that's it. Technically, the only true debut for me was the closer, "Let's Not Get Carried Away," which turned out to be an AC/DC-style barn burner that features a huge drum solo. It's about the last thing I expected from the band, and I loved it.

There's been a lot of talk about the two-guitar interaction on the new Wilco songs, but--as surprising as this sounds coming from me--I have to acknowledge that all three guitarists in the band contribute to the new tunes, especially "Impossible Germany" and "Walken." I found myself looking to the other side of the stage a number of times and likiing it, which almost never happens.

Wilco, 9:30 Club, October 19, 2006: This gig marked the fifth Wilco show I've seen at the 9:30 Club, and they've all been winners. Ah, I remember when I could show up at 4:30 and not see another soul for a good hour--not so much these days, but we expected as such.

Wilco, 9:30 Club, October 19, 2006Before the gig, we reminisced a bit about all the great times we've enjoyed at the 9:30 in the past (except for Paul, who had never seen Wilco there before). Of course I met Heidi there a little more than four years ago, and the fact that we got to hear the band's first live rendition of "Poor Places," as well as the encore of "We've Been Had," cemented the club's reputation as one of my favorite places in the world.

Back in 2004, around the time A Ghost Is Born came out, a group of us embarked on an extended road trip that included the 9:30. I distinctly recall a series of heads turned to face Nels Cline as he worked his magic on "Radio Cure," and this memory came right back at me when the band opened the set with the same song.

The nonpunch still colored the show, but Jeff made quick work of it, and overall, he seemed a little more relaxed. The adoring crowd probably helped, and he took advantage of the love flowing in the room by delivering a long monologue about all the great stuff in Washington, D.C., and how it coexists with the scum in the district. Appropriately, we got "Political Science" that night.

Wilco is way too big for the 9:30 Club these days, but it's still one of the best places to see them, and this turned out to be my favorite show of the trip. It certainly taught me to not to miss another Wilco show at the 9:30 Club again.

Wilco, Casey Center, October 20, 2006: Rock tourism is not for the faint of heart, and certain rules must be heeded. For example, shows at small religious schools in Pennsylvania tend to be winners. And that's how we found ourselves (turnpike ticket notwithstanding) in the gym at Saint Vincent College, the first Benedictine monastery in the United States.

Wilco, Casey Center, October 20, 2006During soundcheck, we heard a new song that reminded me of the languid, stretchy pacing of Cat Power's "American Flag," though otherwise, they bear no resemblance to each other in any way. I'm not a big stickler for song selection, but the setlist itself was a bit anticlimatic, especially for a tour closer. We got only one encore; according to Paul, the crowds streaming out of the hall probably had something to do with the abbreviated set, so the rest of us missed "Say You Miss Me" and others.

But on the fun side, we heard Jeff pander to the local crowd for the third night in a rown by trying to cram in "Saint Vincent" instead of "Pekin" in "Kingpin." During "Hummingbird," Jeff also tried to give Nels a massage a là Buster Bluth. Instead, he mostly succeeded in making an already giddy-seeming Nels laugh out loud. And I'm already a total convert to "Let's Not Get Carried Away," if only for the opportunity to watch the rest of the band beaming at Glenn.

Afterwards, we chatted for a bit, even as the temperatures dropped far lower than comfortable, but the hugs made up for our shivering. We learned that we had breached the secret brotherhood of dry, bared teeth, that this coast might have some very cool shows to look forward to come February 2007, and that a certain very pretty nose nearly didn't survive what should've been a rudimentary instrumental passage.

I want to do it all over again.

See also:
» from the books you don't read anyway
» it's still beyond me

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

a strong heart will prevail

Whoa, I didn't intend to take so long with this concert report, but the last entry deserved some more time on the marquee anyway.

Badly Drawn Boy, Great American Music Hall, October 16, 2006: Quite simply, I love Badly Drawn Boy. His show at Bimbo's in 2000 on his first tour of the United States remains one of my favorites of all time, and I go back to The Hour of Bewilderbeast repeatedly. Between then and now, there've been a few other funny stories regarding Damon, and of course, the collaboration with Jon Brion helped cement both of their reputations in my book. Finally, I get to blog about him.

Badly Drawn Boy, Great American Music Hall, October 16, 2006Before the show began, I overheard a few people around me discussing the last Badly Drawn Boy gig in San Francisco, the details of which I'd totally forgotten. That time, he had broken up the show into two sections: one half for the new stuff, one half for the hits, with a break in between. As I recall, he had a couple of string players, and his manager handed out "pretty girl passes" to (surprise surprise) pretty girls in the audience. These are among the reasons I love him, though friends haven't been found him as charming.

Well, we certainly saw his pricklier side at the show. Near the beginning, he told the chatterers to shut up, and as the show progressed, he took out some of his frustrations on a harmonica holder that didn't quite fit. His mood reached its nadir when he called a short intermission, lamenting his latest single's low debut on the U.K. charts. Over here, we're inured from those concerns, though I can see how his former (?) cockiness might take a beating from the diminishing commercial returns. Sure, he's not Coldplay, but like many of his U.S. fans, I'm just glad that he's back in the States doing what he does best. I should say, though, that his occasional surliness isn't a surprise, but as it was happening, I wasn't sure we'd see the playfulness that endeared him to me in the first place.

But that's not to say it was all gloom and doom. I loved the addition of a small xylophone to the band's repertoire. Since I was standing nearly exactly in front of it, I could hear it quite well, but I'm not sure it came through to the rest of the crowd. And once Damon's mood lifted, we saw some of the goofiness return. After coming back to the stage, Damon and the guitarist did a gorgeous, spare song that he claimed had never been done onstage (I can't remember it now). Later, Damon took the mic off the stand to serenade and greet the audience. I'm glad to report that Julie's was the first hand he kissed!

As much as I love him, I have to admit he seemed to run hot and cold at this show. Will I be back? Of course I will, but for maybe the first time, I can admit that maybe my naysaying friends have a point.