As a rock tourist, I usually favor tertiary markets, but for just about every other recreational activity, big cities are my preferred setting. So guess which territories are more likely to win out when I'm planning to hit the road? Thus, it's always a pleasant surprise when one of these trips takes me to a metropolis I love and haven't visited for far too long.
Wilco, Hammerstein Ballroom, June 26, 2007: I wasn't necessarily looking forward to this gig, though it's not as if you had to twist my arm to get me to go either. My only other trip to the Hammerstein Ballroom took place back in 1998, when I saw Underworld. For that show, we wandered in fairly late and found a spot somewhere in the back of the second floor. From that vantage, the Hammerstein looked absolutely cavernous and not at all welcoming. Almost nine years later and several dozen yards closer to the stage, the Hammerstein was still no bungalow, but at least it felt a lot less austere.
There was a time that New York was my top rock tourist destination, and during all those trips, I can't say I've ever crossed paths with the stereotypical New York crowd, notoriously jaded and bored. Of course, that's one of the good things about staking out your territory at the front; typically, you're more likely to be surrounded by enthusiastic fans rather than industry types or other hangers-on.
Wilco's continuing ascendancy has brought fans of varying provenance, but I don't think it's a recent development. Every Wilco show I've ever attended has included some newbies and potential diehards in training (including, at one point, myself). Their lineage is not really my concern; their enthusiasm, however, is more critical. In that regard, the people around me couldn't be faulted. What does surprise me, however, is the persisting prominence of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Though I have no scientific evidence behind this claim, I swear that the spontaneous crowd singalong on "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart" is frequently the loudest and the most sincere of the night. "Jesus, etc." is also up there, but that usually comes with some prodding.
Though the Hammerstein's sheer footprint was less of an issue than before, I have to admit that after the proximity of all parties at the Pines, this venue suffered in comparison. Though I enjoyed the show and the energy between the band members, it was hard to tap into the same fervor that marked the previous night's gig. Still, it was easy to appreciate the band's skills and engagement when, say, balancing the chaos and clarity of "Via Chicago" or taking it to the rafters with "Impossible Germany."
» you were right about the stars