You can convincingly argue that I've never practiced moderation when it comes to Wilco. Even at the very beginning, before I had any idea where this fascination would take me, I happily ponied up for the band's three-night stand at the Fillmore (a distinction in my concert history shared by only one other group: Pavement). Those days seem to be long gone, but that hasn't stopped us from piecing together three-show strings of our own.
Wilco, Iowa Memorial Union, October 14, 2007: I have a soft spot for Iowa. Granted, I had already embarked on several excursions to see Wilco by the time I arrived at the Val-Air Ballroom in Des Moines in 2003, but that was no ordinary jaunt. Sure, there was a trip to Grantham, Penn., that predated that Midwestern detour, and I had traveled to Chicago, New York, and other major cities to see the band before. But Iowa?!? Give me a break!
But the show turned out to be an incredible experience, one of my favorite memories among who knows how many concerts. First and foremost, there was the amazing collection of people, many of whom have become great friends. Add to that the lively show, the awesome venue, an impromptu ice cream social, and the unexpected meet-and-greet. Then factor in Nels Cline's cameo appearance--a sneak peek into the future--and you might have an idea of why that gig stands out among the multitude of shows I've seen.
Of course, Iowa City is not Des Moines, nor is the Iowa Memorial Union the Val-Air. But it offers one of the other venue subsets we love: student unions! And since we counted an alum among our number, we could even explore the campus and the town with some guidance and knowledge. On top of that, our crew welcomed one more favorite face--yay!
Coming off the heels of Kansas City, Iowa City offered both improvements and detractions. To start off, we were situated at the very lip of the stage, where Brianne and I pondered the dubious prospect of staring up at Jeff's neckard for the show's entirety. This proximity actually made for cool photo opps and let us in on the band's interactions, but on the other hand, with the PA behind us, we sacrificed sound. Though the instruments came through loud and clear, Jeff's vocals were muffled, sounding like some of the below-par bootlegs that used to circulate before Wilco made official its pro-taping policy.
In addition, the crowd's energy fell short of the previous night's ardor. It's hard to get a true feel for the audience when you're at the front, but my guess is that the relatively young crowd was simply not familiar with some of the older material. Though I could hear cheers for "Too Far Apart" coming from somewhere back in the room, the young faces around me seemed impassive through the number--far from the jubilant reception the song has enjoyed at other gigs I've attended.
Then again, there wasn't that much older material, at least not compared to what the band played in Kansas City. But we got at least one song I never thought I'd hear at a Wilco show: "It's Just That Simple," featuring John Stirratt on lead vocals. I'm not the song's biggest fan, but I loved seeing Wilco play it, if only to witness John and Jeff swapping places, with Jeff taking the bass, seemingly in a zone of his own making. Additionally, it was great to have John on lead vocals, and Nels touched the song with the more understated, fluid elements of his musical repertoire.
Though I'm not convinced the people around us brought their A-game to the show, the band didn't seem to suffer the same effects. Thus, we saw Glenn twirling his drumsticks during "Heavy Metal Drummer," Mike slashing away at Nels's guitar, Jeff working his American Idol fingers during the falsetto ending of "Too Far Apart," and even Matrix sporting a Mexican wrestling mask at the end of the second encore.
During "Jesus, etc.," Jeff asked for Andrew Bird to join the band, but Andrew had already left for a long drive to his next show in Indiana. Iowa City's loss is Columbus's and Detroit's gain, apparently, as they teamed up in both towns. At this point, it's ridiculous to feel bitter about missing some shows, but that doesn't mean I can't nurse a small grudge.
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