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.
Wilco, 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...
In 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.
After 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.
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