When Wilco's European dates were first announced, my preference was for the Paris-Gent-Amsterdam string of shows, but alas, the cost of traveling during high season deemed otherwise. After some juggling, though, I settled upon the series of gigs you may or may not have been following in this blog. Berlin, especially, loomed as the treat to end my run. For now.
Wilco, Kesselhaus, May 24, 2007: A.k.a., "I Went to Berlin and All I Got Were Wiggles Toddler Wipes."
Rock tourism in Western Europe isn't necessarily harder than it is in the States. Thanks to the newfound rash of European discount airlines, zipping from country to country is somewhat akin to crossing state lines (passport control notwithstanding), and sheepishness aside, even the complete lack of language skills didn't significantly impede our progress:
Us [haltingly, embarrassingly]: Ein currywurst und ein Coke Light?
Them [in perfect English]: That will be three euros.
I will say, though, that rock tourism in Europe, especially for this twitch-prone crew, is in other ways a lot more relaxing. We took badly needed naps and wandered around charming neighborhoods, yet we got to the venues at still ungodly though not horribly demanding times to start up the queue. And once inside, we took our spots at the front of modest stages--exactly the outcome you hope for.
Not that the Kesselhaus was small, by most measures. The cavernous warehouse reminded me of the legendary Hacienda in Manchester, England, as depicted in the movie 24 Hour Party People (sadly, I never darkened the club's doors--and have yet to make my pilgrimage to Manchester, for that matter!). Despite all the claims of Berlin's amazing nightlife, I didn't spot anyone with glowsticks hanging off the top floor for this show.
Early in the gig, Jeff inquired into the makeup of the crowd. It was somewhat of a relief to find that the Americans weren't as prevalent here as they were in Cologne, as befits a city as diverse as Berlin. In the final, unofficial count, representatives of Great Britain, Canada, Scandinavia, the Mediterranean, and Eastern Europe all piped up, but Jeff's favorite audience member was a guy who claimed to have come from Antarctica.
Regardless of their origin, they were audibly united in their love for Wilco, even if their voices dropped off after the first few lines of "Misunderstood," which went off without a hitch tonight. The singalong portion of "Jesus, etc." required a bit of prodding, as did the shouting in "Kingpin"--a natural fit for the city, as Jeff substituted "Berlin" for "Pekin" (I love pandering)--but overall, the crowd responded enthusiastically to both new and old material.
Favorite moments from the show include "Pot Kettle Black," the first time I've heard the song live in--well, forever, even if Jeff forgot the first couple of lines. "Spiders" also took another left turn; if the previous night's treatment played up the song's cock rock possibilities, Berlin seemed to inspire a nod to the nation's native sons, as Mike piled on the keyboards to build up the blips and bleeps that once elicited so much controversy. The only slight blemish on the song was Glenn breaking his kick drum and Jeff's too-much-information confabulation of how Glenn managed to limp through the rest of the number.
My admiration for Nels Cline is well documented, and I still can't shut the fuck up about him. As a guitarist, he's above reproach, but those expert licks don't prepare you for his physical presence. Sure, there's his work on the lap steel, reawakening tracks such as "Airline to Heaven" or "Sunken Treasure"; the laser-like chords he picks out for, say, "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart," "Poor Places," and "Hummingbird"; or the glorious clusterfuck he encourages in "Handshake Drugs" or "Shot in the Arm."
So while there's no discounting his musical contributions, his onstage energy deserves a mention. Whether Nels is setting his sights on Glenn to work his kit (or his teeth), egging Mike to play Nels's guitar while simultaneously manning the keys, shooting looks at John and Pat on the other side of the stage, or almost literally getting into Jeff's face, he's magnetic. I want him to be in the band forever.
When it comes down to it, I can't get over how much fun the band seems to be having with each other. Back in November, I thought I saw Wilco at their loosest and their best, but I was mistaken. Their command of the new songs was certainly on display at these shows, but not at the expense of good, old-fashioned goofiness, as evidenced by Glenn's nightly arms-aloft tribute to Shellac's drummer, Nels playing the guitar on his back, or Jeff's willingness to laugh at himself--or, more likely, Glenn.
All told, it's impossible for me to pick out a single favorite show from this run. Of course, Bill Fay's appearance in London deserves a special mention, but the second night in London was just as satisfying, and the energy of Berlin is hard to dismiss. Even Cologne held surprises. I guess I loved them all!
Carla Bozulich and Bobb Bruno opened the show again in Berlin, and Carla said for the second night in a row that it was her birthday, though this time, cake had been served. They played a similar set as the night before, though they changed up the song order. It was hard to tell the full crowd reaction, but I think she got at least one unqualified, approving hoot from the punters.
I usually love coming home and flying into the fog bank blanketing my town, but this was a trip I wish I could've extended indefinitely. Until I win the lottery and truly give it all up for rock tourism, I'll settle for the knowledge that I was privy to an addictive combination of great pals, new attractions, and deliriously inspiring shows by some of the kindest, most generous musicians I've ever seen.
Check back in June for the next run. Heh heh.
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