Rock tourism may be good for the soul, but this season, it's proving less than beneficial to my health, as I'm sick again after seeing Wilco in New Orleans. Granted, the recent string of local (and semi-local) shows probably didn't help either; it's just as well, then, that I'm sitting tight for the next couple of weeks.
Wilco, Tipitina's, March 5 and 6, 2008: Wilco's Chicago residency, understandably, sated many fans' appetites for the band, but it should come as no surprise that I'm not one of those people. In fact, it was with a somewhat heavy heart that I realized I had to decide between the New Orleans two-night stand and the Tulsa-Des Moines closer.
New Orleans won out for a number of reasons: I've always wanted to visit; the convenience of flying in and out of one city; avoiding yet another potentially freezing Midwestern locale. And am I glad I did--less than 24 hours after hitting the town, drinking up a double helping of the cafe au lait, and taking a couple of leisurely walks through the Garden District, I was fantasizing about living here (easy to say during a relatively temperate spell).
Tipitina's, too, did its part in casting the spell. As promised, it was practically a shack, an unassuming neighborhood bar on a nondescript corner of this otherwise colorful town. Inside, it revealed a balcony and begged to be compared to the other smaller spaces I've seen Wilco play. We thought of several analogous venues, but in the end, the comparison wasn't worth it. Tipitina's is both the bar you already know and a one-of-a-kind establishment.
Tipitina's intimacy turned out to have its pluses and minuses. On the positive side, the tight squeeze added a certain comic touch to the proceedings, as we watched the band duck in around the instruments to get to their spots and the various media crews find their places in the constrained pit area. And of course, it put the audience in closer proximity to the band than is customary these days.
This proximity proved distracting in more ways than one. For example, the level of chatter in the bar was louder than anything I've heard at a Wilco show in several years. Yes, I know it's a bar, and some mutterings are inevitable, and maybe Wilco gigs get a little self-serious at times. I'm also willing to admit that I probably take the matter way too seriously, but it was a nuisance nonetheless.
The discord took a bigger toll the second night, though, when early on, Jeff confiscated a camcorder from a guy near the front rail. Unfortunately, this would not be the end of their interaction, as the same guy and a friend [members of the self-proclaimed John Stirot (sic) fan club] managed to insert themselves in a drunken, extended conversation (?) with Jeff. Add to that the cacophony of voices yelling out requests and the band's off-mic observation that the crowd was "out of control" and we were looking down the neck of a potential full-scale derailment.
Thankfully, the band regained its momentum, and though I can't put my finger on exactly when the show became theirs again, I do recall that "Pick Up the Change" was lovely. That's not to say, however, that the start of the set was all interlopers and hecklers; the opening shot of "(Was I) In Your Dreams" and "Pieholden Suite" with the Total Pros on horns was a gorgeous distillation of what we heard during the residency.
On top of that, over the two nights, there was Nels's epic (even for Nels) turn on "Impossible Germany," Jeff forgetting the words to, appropriately, "Forget the Flowers," and the crowd-pleasing improv in "Kingpin," when Jeff changed the lyric to "living in New Orleans." The band's chemistry spoke volumes as well; as the gig progressed, they were back to their usual hijinks, including Glenn's grandstanding before "I'm the Man Who Loves You," Nels and Mike's ongoing amusements, and Pat's alarm improvs. We tried to help, too, even if it meant we might've been the only two people in the audience contributing backing vocals to "Someday Soon" and "Summerteeth" or hand claps to "Nothing'severgonnastandinmyway(again)."
New Orleans turned out to host another sideshow of sorts, though less distracting than the one in the front row. There were a couple of proud dads, Mr. Stirratt and Mr. Sansone, in the VIP section, and joining them were some celebrities, both notable (John C. Reilly) and not.
John Doe opened the shows, and Nels joined him for a couple of numbers, including the blistering "Gimme Shelter." I also recognized his backing singer, Cindy Wasserman, from her time with Grant-Lee Phillips. I've seen John Doe only once before, during a Largo residency when he played each week with a different musical guest (I wonder who he collaborated with the week I saw him!). In contrast to that show, John seriously rocked with this band. Jeff thanked John more than once during the show, and on songs such as "Too Far Apart," his influence came through loud and clear.
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