I love living in a city frequented by national and international touring bands--even if I don't take advantage of the situation as much as I should--but there's something about getting out of town (way out of town) to catch your favorite acts in an entirely new setting, preferably one that would be hard to justify otherwise. Well, that's my excuse for following Wilco to Alaska, anyway. And it's one of the best rationalizations I've made in a long time.
Wilco, The Blue Loon, July 25, 2008: We had already spent two-plus days in Alaska before the first Wilco show, and in that time, we managed to cover lots of ground. Our ambitious itinerary included a stroll through the tiny town of Talkeetna, a far too brief foray into the vast and breathtaking Denali National Park, a dip in the refreshing Chena Hot Springs, and two nights at the coolest B&B ever--all before the first concert.
Most people may not consider them on par with the Seven Wonders of the World, but rock clubs and venues, in all their variations, totally fascinate me, and they're just as integral to the rock tourism experience as the band I'm seeing and the city I'm visiting. In fact, considering how much time I spend in lines and waiting on sidewalks, they may take precedence over the municipalities themselves. In Fairbanks, this meant an open-air, sawdust-floored space right off one of the main Alaska highways. Although the superscary bugs (eek!) threatened to ruin the day, the rain remained in check, and the concert went off without a hitch.
I've lost track of how many times I've seen Wilco, but I know that I still love their gigs, and I can tell you why--I mean, besides being a creature of habit and having a high tolerance for repetition. But apart from those ticks, I love the fine details of each show. Sometimes it's as obvious as Jeff Tweedy's banter or unusual song choices or an especially blistering solo by any of the band members. Tonight, I'd bestow that honor on Mikael Jorgensen, who brought the birdsong to "Summerteeth," which tickled me to no end.
Overall, the band was almost visibly loose. For example, Jeff forgot several lyrics, including the seeming no-brainer "California Stars," not that he was alone in the missteps--but that's not a complaint. I actually enjoy seeing those sheepish grins flit between the musicians as they subtly correct themselves. But instead of reining themselves in, they forged on, closing the show with a clamorous "Hoodoo Voodoo" that left us--and the band--simultaneously beaming and bellowing.
A large part of the credit for this rollicking show goes to the crowd. Though their fandom may have spilled over into frenzy toward the end of the concert, there was no denying their appreciation for the band. During the first encore, I looked over my right shoulder and saw raised arms and agape mouths--there was no apathy or ennui here. We in the Lower 48 may complain about musicians passing us by, but we got nothing on the Alaskans.
Oh right--the band also debuted two new songs in Alaska! I like what I heard, especially the spiraling three-guitar interplay on "One Wing." On paper, it may bring to mind "Impossible Germany," but it felt more structured than the Sky Blue Sky showcase. "Sunny Feeling," meanwhile, was instantly hummable. I can't wait to hear more of them in the months (years?) to come.
» all of my maps have been overthrown