Friday, August 31, 2007

a gift given accidentally

After the Santa Barbara show, we skipped San Diego in favor of resting up, catching Superbad, fetching B from the airport, and (in my case) working. Welcome, once again, to the rock tourist's life.

Wilco, Greek Theatre (Los Angeles), August 29, 2007: Last time we were here, we had no idea how great the pit is, but it made enough of an impression that I've been raving about it for the past two years. Tonight, the promoter had erected a barrier so that the photographers could get in, but aside from that small detail, the stage was just as accessible as I recall.

Wilco, Greek Theatre, August 29, 2007

One thing that hadn't changed was the typical Los Angeles crowd, who mostly stayed away for Richard Swift's opening set and had not yet fully taken their seats even after Wilco came on. Down in the pit, we were accompanied by some friendly faces old and new, such as my pals Dean and Paul, who I had met so many years ago at the El Rey. And once more, the Quick Turnaround Award goes to Maudie and Trish, who managed to find the most reckless--and effective--cab driver at the Burbank Airport to arrive at the Greek shortly after the opening set. Otherwise, though, there were quite a few dubious bodies around us. I believe I was spared the worst of it, other than the girl directly behind me who spilled beer on my (gold!) shoes and screamed ridiculous exclamations ("Chicago!" "Michigan!" "I love you, Jeff!") throughout the show. Ugh.

Wilco, Greek Theatre, August 29, 2007

Nonetheless, you can't be any sort of dedicated concert-goer and let those people get to you. It also helped that the music drowned out the majority of their inanities, so I could pretty much tune her and the others out as soon as the band kicked in. We also got brief respites when (a) the band played a song that predated Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and, thus, she didn't know, or (b) her boyfriend or whatever made out with her and shut her up.

Wilco, Greek Theatre, August 29, 2007

In a departure from the other gigs on the tour (and maybe with a nod to the Hollywood crowd), the band took the stage to the theme from The Bob Newhart Show, as they had back in June. The song selection didn't hold too many surprises, other than the recent additions of "Too Far Apart," "Pot Kettle Black," and "Outtasite." On the bantering front, Jeff reminded Los Angeles how lucky they are to claim Nels Cline as a native son, and he marveled over the Greek's camera effects. After requesting a fade between Glenn's face and his own, Jeff claimed that it mirrored a dream he once had--moving Glenn to visibly groan.

Wilco, Greek Theatre, August 29, 2007

But much as with the show in 2005, the family became a focus for at least a couple of the band members, what with spouses and children hanging out at the side of the stage. In this sequel, Sammy once again joined his father onstage, this time for "Spiders" instead of "Hummingbird," and fully awake instead of still groggy. There seemed to be more premeditation this time, but at the last minute, Sammy's clapping contributions didn't exactly pan out. I trust that he succeeded, however, in melting the 6,000-plus hearts in the audience, among them his dad, who beamed like a solar flare for this guest appearance.

See also:
» i wasn't that night
» penny rich and dollar dumb

Thursday, August 30, 2007

i wasn't that night

My brothers don't agree on much these days, but both have said to me, on separate occasions, how much they like the Santa Barbara Bowl. It was their recommendations and a general curiosity about this seaside hamlet that moved me to pencil in this date, the only reserved show of our recent run of Wilco gigs. Paul's procurement of primo seats didn't hurt either.

Wilco, Santa Barbara Bowl, August 26, 2007: Of course, I should've taken my brothers' thumbs-up with a grain of salt, as they're not into live music to the same extent I am. With a quick perusal of the surroundings, we saw that the Santa Barbara Bowl is a lovely natural amphitheater, but just as quickly, we sensed this would be a sedate crowd. How right we were.

Wilco, Santa Barbara, August 26, 2007

Almost immediately, Jeff Tweedy commented on the empty seats in the crowd, notably the ones in the first (right in front of us) and second (right next to us) rows. It took a while for the ticket holders to show up; not to make excuses but I suspect they were caught off guard by the early start of the show. For example, we made it to our places maybe only 10 minutes before the band took the stage, and we were fully aware of Richard Swift's set times.

Wilco, Santa Barbara, August 26, 2007

Per usual, the whole sitting/standing issue came up for this show. My preference is for standing, which is what we did as soon as "Handshake Drugs" started, and though we heard very faint requests behind us to sit down, we stayed on our feet for as long as possible. We avoided a potential standoff, so to speak, when Jeff dedicated "Too Far Apart" to the front row and sort of invited everyone up to the lip of the stage. I watched for a second as others abandoned their seats, but it was the sight of my friend Dean taking his place at the front that really lit the fire under me. We climbed over the seats in front of us and joined Dean for the rest of the show.

Wilco, Santa Barbara, August 26, 2007This new vantage, though exponentially better than the seated arrangement, bore a couple of caveats. For one, sound wasn't optimal, as the speakers were somewhere behind us--but who cares?? And though Jeff's actions brought the livelier members of the audience to the front, there was a certain amount of cringe-inducing patrons crowding the stage, including the guy who stood smack dab in front of Jeff and didn't know Nels's name. Sigh.

But these are actually very small complaints, and we even got an unexpected selection of "The Lonely 1" anchored by Jeff and Nels (while Glenn took a hard-earned break) in the encore. I'm not rushing back to the Santa Barbara Bowl any time soon, but I certainly enjoyed this brief visit.

See also:
» easily fooled: August 2007 archive

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

hidden hand

Going to a lot of shows tends to make me want to see more shows, even by artists I'm not stalking. Thus, it makes complete sense that in the midst of a sizable rock tourism jag, I'd try to shoehorn one or two more into the schedule. After all, Largo was a short drive up LaCienaga from LAX to Evonne's anyway--might as well stop in for Grant-Lee Phillips' show.

Grant-Lee Phillips, Largo, August 25, 2007: I'll skip the usual preamble about my longtime interest in Grant, except to say that the last show I attended left me a little disheartened. I'm usually the first person to say you should move on if an artist no longer interests you, but I realize that for music nerds such as myself, this medium and our associations with it can complicate matters. Quite simply, it makes me sad to think that maybe I can't get anything else from Grant's artistry, which led me down at least a few promising musical tracks through the ages.

Before that question could be answered, we were required to satisfy Largo's minimum order requirement, and we took the opportunity to gawk at Aimee Mann at the back of the room. We made out a couple of other familiar figures, though no one could decide if Michael Penn was with her; we eventually decided he wasn't.

One of the barflies turned out to be the night's opener: Paul F. Tompkins, whom I adore. He opened with a joke seemingly aimed directly at our table, pitting the residents of Los Angeles vs. those of San Francisco and New York. I can't comment on his characterization of New Yorkers, but he hit the nail on the head regarding the typical San Franciscan's disdain for our southern neighbors. Let it be known, though, that I may be the staunchest defender of the Southland that I know (as well I should, at this point).

He closed with his pie-vs.-cake debate, which I've heard before, but it's a question that deserves to be posed often. If I didn't hate typical comedy clubs so much, I'd see Paul's shows more often, but for now, I'll settle for occasional visits to Largo or the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater.

Time came for Grant to hit the stage, where he was joined by Paul Bryan and Jay Bellerose from his last touring incarnation. Their set comprised a fair sampling of much of Grant's work over the years, with a slight emphasis on Strangelet, the most recent release. For example, we heard "Fountain of Youth" featuring Jamie from Aimee's band on piano, and on "Calamity Jane," Grant wrung out a gorgeous sustain on electric guitar that I don't remember in the original version.

We also got a batch of wonderful Grant Lee Buffalo tunes, some by request ("Jupiter and Teardrop"), while others came more spontaneously. The aforementioned Jamie stuck around for "Truly Truly," but Grant took the lead on "Lady Godiva and Me" on electric guitar in a rendition and style that kept me guessing for longer than usual (I usually recognize the song immediately). Grant even turned out one new song that didn't yet have a title.

The showcase of the evening had to be the Grant-Paul F. Tompkins duet. Grant set the scene, asking for a summery vibe from Paul Bryan and reminiscing over the season's celebrations. He then called up Paul F. Tompkins, and the two revealed their tradition of getting together for Shark Week. Meanwhile, the beat had started to pick up behind them, and before we knew it, they were singing an original song about the Discovery Channel's popular series to the tune of "Mack the Knife." Grant and Paul dispensed all manner of shark facts and anecdotes, including mentions of hammerheads, "cartilaginous skeletons" (taken verbatim from the song!), and their multiple rows of teeth, while simultaneously outvamping the Rat Pack. If this reminds you in the least of their collaboration for Aimee Mann's Christmas show, you're on the right track.

Aimee, alas, remained in the shadows for the whole show and didn't grace the stage, which is somewhat understandable, given her recent three-night stand at the club. She hung out, however, to bolster her friends and colleagues.

The show definitely added at least a few more years to my Grant-Lee appreciation. Thanks, Largo, for reminding me of what he can deliver.

See also:
» Take Me Home, Country Pigeon
» it's all in good spirits
» it's not going to stop

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

back in your old neighborhood

I've been waiting two years to use that subject line, but that's how long it took for Wilco to return to one of my former stomping grounds and play the specific song with the necessary lyric--no groveling required.

Wilco, Greek Theatre (Berkeley), August 24, 2007: As I volunteered to anyone who'd listen, I would've walked across the stage of the Greek Theatre if I had attended my graduation ceremony. Instead, I skipped it and, without fanfare, picked up my flimsy diploma over the summer at the registrar's office.

This lack of school spirit, coupled with my venue snobbery, tends to keep me away from the Greek Theatre. Not even bands such as Belle and Sebastian, Arcade Fire, and the Flaming Lips can convince me to make the trip over the bridge. However, Wilco does not stand as just any band in my book.

For some reason, I had a very clear picture in my mind of Wilco opening with "Sunken Treasure" last time they were at the Greek in Berkeley, so I was a little surprised that they'd reprise the same number this time out. I was wrong--according to WilcoBase, they started off with "Misunderstood" that night, so I'm obviously mixing up my cathartic Being There tracks.

I'm pretty fixated on Nels under the best of circumstances, but I noticed more than a small note of drama on his side of the stage tonight. There was, for example, a tiny misstep in "Pot Kettle Black" that saw him grimacing and backing off slowly, in hopes that no one had noticed, though he recovered beautifully. Later, he nearly toppled over one of his monitors, the threat of a good eight-foot drop over the edge looming, and he seemed to have broken a nail and could be seen tending to it on several instances. It didn't affect his playing, but there was some concern from his bandmates. By the end of the night, though, I assume he had administered to it because he bestowed upon "California Stars" his distinctive treatment, the kind that neither Seattle's nor Portland's guest players could manage.

Wilco, Berkeley, August 24, 2007

Speaking of Portland, Jeff tried to instigate a feud between the two cities' pot smokers, but it was an apples-and-oranges tossup. Berkeley's bigger space and brisk air cut through the haze a lot more effectively than Portland's pleasant climate. Even down in the trenches, our senses weren't assaulted nearly as forcibly as they had been in Portland.

"Misunderstood," besides furnishing the title of this blog entry, started off the first encore and hammered through to the customary barrage of "nothing"s. I gave, as usual, not a thought to the count until Jeff looked over and asked if that was 40. Trish had the total: 42. He checked in with the rest of the audience, and they corroborated the tally, but he didn't publicly come clean with his reasons, citing only something "personal."

Wilco, Berkeley, August 24, 2007

One point over which there was no doubt was the Bay Area's sustained love for Wilco, which Jeff acknowledged with a heartfelt thanks for all our support over the years. Being a longtime Wilco fan in the United States has had its ups and downs these days, especially if you've seen them in clubs and other intimate spaces. The Greek Theatre will never be my favorite spot (hell, it wasn't even when I lived there), but I'll take it over another half-dozen similar venues in San Francisco and beyond.

See also:
» much too busy to worry
» don't let anyone say it's wrong

Monday, August 27, 2007

much too busy to worry

Before we could make our way to Portland, there was the pressing matter of a pit stop at Salumi in downtown Seattle, a diversion that was worth every minute on the clock and mile on the odometer. Bless the Batalis and their way with pork products!

Wilco, McMenamin's Edgefield, August 22, 2007: There was a lot to look forward to at this show, and top of the list was meeting Judy's burgeoning family, who dropped in while we were waiting in line. Unfortunately, we were holding down the fort at the front of the stage when the baby summit took place, but we hear the children shared toys in the most adorable manner possible.

They weren't the only little ones present, as plenty of other parents seemed to think it was a good idea to bring along the whole family. The couple next to us, for example, took turns hoisting their tweens to the barrier. This, combined with the massive amounts of pot smoke trapped in the warm air, led Jeff to comment on the consequences of the combination. I don't think it stopped either the parents or the pot smokers, though.

At least one beloved mommy, as well as one daddy, was able to sneak away and join us at the front of the stage for a selection of songs. I think it was during "Handshake Drugs" that Judy spontaneously proclaimed, "I love this band!" She pretty much summed up my feelings exactly, and it was wonderful to have her resume her usual position with us, as if no time had gone by at all. Alas, their newborn had other plans, so she had to duck away for the rest of the show (though not before noticing the cool, new things Nels did to "Pot Kettle Black"). Her absence was especially notable during during "Outtamind (Outtasite)," which got the rest of us pogoing like idiots. Doug, however, stayed for the whole set, and I was glad to see that he was enjoying it as much as we did.

Wilco, Portland, August 22, 2007

Tonight's song selection favored the "alterna" Sky Blue Sky tracks, such as "Either Way" and "Shake It Off," that aren't aired as often. I have no idea why they don't do "Either Way" every night, especially when you can hear the crowd singing along as they did in Portland.

Wilco, Portland, August 22, 2007

Setlist surprises included "Bob Dylan's Beard," but not so surprising was the appearance of Scott McCaughey and Peter Buck, a.k.a. the Minus 5, for "California Stars." It brought me back nearly five years, to the joint Wilco/Minus 5 tour through the West Coast. Despite his previous experience, Peter Buck didn't seem any more assured than Bill Frisell in the guest guitarist position.

Wilco, Portland, August 22, 2007

See also:
» don't let anyone say it's wrong

Sunday, August 26, 2007

don't let anyone say it's wrong

O Canada, I hardly knew ye, but it was back over the border and on to Microsoft-land (also, coincidentally, the self-proclaimed bicycling capital of the West) for my second show of this tour.

Wilco, Marymoor Park, August 21, 2007: I've never been farther north on the West Coast than Portland, and though I had clocked in about 7 hours on the road in the past two days, my actual Seattle appreciation would have to wait. Officially, we were in Redmond, the suburb that Microsoft built. In the midst of this wired zone was Lake Sammamish and Marymoor Park, the site of Wilco's gig for the night.

Joining us and the Canadian contigent were a couple of surprise guests: Wafer and Walrus (i.e., Mike and Jeff), who were independently in town for business purposes. It's always great seeing these guys, neither of whom had caught the band since the new album came out.

Wilco, Marymoor Park, August 21, 2007One of the funnier asides in the show started with an audience member who shouted out that he had just gotten married. I doubt that he was a ringer, but as if on cue, the band broke out "Hate It Here," with Jeff singing the entire song to the newlyweds.

Overall, Vancouver had a better setlist, but the band's energy was noticeably building, and we got a surprise guest on the other side of the stage: Bill Frisell, who picked up the guitar for a couple of Woody Guthrie numbers. Bill stayed close to Nels, grinning and showing off the mutual respect and admiration the two have crafted over the years. Truth be told, Bill's contribution was surprisingly modest, even on "California Stars," which has an openness and simplicity that's crying to be embellished. The bigger treat was watching him enjoy himself and the Wilco guys basking in his presence.

Wilco, Marymoor Park, August 21, 2007

See also:
» waiting for a postcard

Thursday, August 23, 2007

waiting for a postcard

Reporting in for my third--and most extensive--tour of duty yet on Wilco's Sky Blue Sky tour, but also, the first one sort of in my general region of the world. Warning: My umpteenth account of why I love "Impossible Germany" every time I hear it may or may not resemble coherent English at this point, so feel free to stay away from this blog for a couple of weeks.

Wilco, Malkin Bowl, August 20, 2007: Judy pulled the dirtiest (i.e., nicest) trick in the book to lure me to this show: She bought me a ticket when I was still officially on the fence! Granted, I had already booked a cheap, extremely early morning flight to Seattle for that same day, so it was no hardship to amend my plans. So long, "free" day in Seattle; hello, my first ever trip to Canada!

First things first: There was catching up to do, a beautiful baby girl to coo over, and gelato to eat, all of which we dispatched of at a decent rate before hitting Stanley Park. This venue, like the others in the Pacific Northwest for this tour, would hearken back to the Pines Theater in Northampton. That is, it was an outdoor space in a park. Judy explained that Malkin Bowl is often used for Shakespeare and other dramatic productions, and the stage was a slightly awkward fit for a rock show. Also, because of the day's rainfall, the band's equipment was pushed back under the roof, adding up to what felt like a chasm between the audience and the musicians.

Perhaps this rather large gulch separating us from the group led to my initial impressions of the show as starting off at a leisurely, unassuming pace. "Pot Kettle Black" is still fresh enough again that it's sure to prick up my ears, but it took "Too Far Apart" to blow our expectations out of the water. A quick check on Wilcobase shows that the last time the song was played was at one of my first Wilco shows ever, back in 2000.

Wilco, Malkin Bowl, August 20, 2007

Jeff claimed that the Wayback Machine wouldn't be in operation anymore that night, and that song alone might've buoyed us through the rest of the show. However, the band instead broke out "Red-Eyed and Blue/I Got You," which was a first for me with this lineup, followed by "Monday," though Jeff forgot the lyrics and we were of absolutely no use to him (Paul, because he didn't project enough; me because I never remember lyrics under pressure).

Of course, one of the bigger questions for us was Nels and his recent bout with the chicken pox. Earlier reports indicated that he was well and as incendiary as ever, and I'm happy to corroborate those claims. He hasn't missed a beat--or, rather, a lick.

Wilco, Malkin Bowl, August 20, 2007

Richard Swift opened the show with a short set: only 25 minutes or so, encompassing just a half dozen songs. I'd seen part of his show earlier this year and liked what I heard of his brand of singer/songwriter-based material. Without a full band backing him, the songs were not quite as powerful, though his single supporting player filled in nicely on banjo, guitar, keyboard, and backing vocals.

See also:
» you were right about the stars
» singing songs about the weekend

Monday, August 06, 2007

as fickle as a paper doll

I was set to sit on my ass for the next few weeks and grasp at straws for blog posts, but Stephanie hit town, so we hit the St. Vincent show at Cafe du Nord for her visit. Thus, I'll spend only two weeks grasping at straws before the next rock tourism jaunt. Mark your calendars (ha)!

St. Vincent/Death Vessel/Ferraby Lionheart, Cafe du Nord, August 3, 2007: Among this triple bill, the only performance I can really address is that of Ferraby Lionheart, my hook for convincing Stephanie to come to the show. I hadn't heard a note of his music, but that's never stopped me before. In fact, I'm probably more likely to skip a gig if I'm familiar with--and turned off/bored/underwhelmed by--an artist's repertoire; sometimes the element of surprise is the best factor a new musician has working in his or her favor.

Just before the gig, Stephanie mentioned that Ferraby reminds her of Townes Van Zandt, a comparison that rang in my mind for the entire gig. It was an apt parallel, borne out by the twang-touched, Western-inspired guitar tunes that comprised half the set. Making generous use of the reverb on his voice, he brought to mind the singing cowboys of yore, though his lyrics felt more modern in their concerns.

The other half of the set, Ferraby took to the electric piano, and at first, the songs sounded less distinctive. The second number, we agreed, started out like an eels tune, teetering and sheepish, before turning on a Rufus Wainwright-esque flourish. They picked up steam, but I definitely preferred him on the guitar.

Toward the end of the set, he graced us with a cover that I didn't recognize until Stephanie elbowed me at the start of the second verse. It was "Crazy for You," reimagined as something worthier of Dolly Parton than Mrs. Guy Ritchie. I can't blame him; as much as I've tried to resist her, Madonna was undoubtedly part of the fabric of my teenage years.

We had to retreat by the second song of Death Vessel's set, but not before being struck by the contradictions he presented. With a name like that, I expected some goth group, but it turned out to be a lone metal-looking guy with an acoustic guitar, a high, androgynous voice, and extremely earnest though monochromatic tunes.

Because of Cafe du Nord's unforgiving stage times, we couldn't stay for all of St. Vincent's set, but I thought she was dynamite in the snippet we caught. When I saw her back in January opening for Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, she was definitely intriguing, but in the interim, she's added a whole other dimension to her show. Some of the credit has to go with her backing band, who brought out the textures only hinted at in her solo treatment. Of the handful of tunes we caught, she was interchangeably arty, rocking, and lyrical. Once again, she made use of an odd percussive implement (a mannequin's arm?), though her crush on Sufjan Stevens didn't come up this time. I think I'll be back for more when she inevitably returns.

See also:
» done well is so much fucking better