Wednesday, October 29, 2008

i see my light come shining

Certainly, no one city has a lock on unique music events, whether it's Hoboken hosting Yo La Tengo's annual Hanukkah shows, Chicago putting on the Hideout Block Party, or Los Angeles and its gem, my beloved Largo, to name just three examples. But can you blame me for swelling with civic pride over my local attractions? Trailing the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival by just a few weeks, the Bridge School Benefit took up its annual residence at the Shoreline Amphitheater, and for the second time, Wilco was part of the bill.

Wilco, Bridge School Benefit Concert, October 25-26, 2008: I spend a lot of time on this blog deriding certain types of venues, but I have to come clean: Growing up in the South Bay, I went to a number of shows at the Shoreline Amphitheater, including my first concert ever, Duran Duran/Erasure in 1987. As for other artists I've seen there, I plead the fifth. No further comment, thank you.

But I can tell you not only exactly how many times I've returned to Shoreline in the last five years, but also for what reason. I've been back twice--both times for Bridge School and both times for Wilco. But you already guessed that, didn't you?

A lot has happened to Wilco since the group's 2003 appearance, including new band members (Nels Cline and Pat Sansone), new releases, and maybe even a new standing in the industry--maybe. Regardless, it was good to have the guys back in the general neighborhood a mere two months after their Outside Lands appearance. The feeling appears to be mutual, as Jeff shared how much they enjoy playing "this market." (Sweet nothings!)

Then again, the gig shared some characteristics with their Bridge School debut. For one, they played an entirely different set each night; also, they tried out some unreleased songs, which means I've now heard four songs possibly from their next album. I won't spend too much time trying to describe the new songs, especially since MP3s are floating about the Internet, except to say that they betray, once again, diverging influences within the band and a dark tone to Jeff's lyrics.

I've certainly seen enough Jeff Tweedy shows that I know how the songs sound in a solo acoustic setting, but I think this may be the only time I've heard the entire band unplugged as well. For example, Glenn manned a smaller drum kit, and Nels had none of the gadgets and gizmos with which he augments his sound. Meanwhile, Mike and Pat took turns at a baby grand, an old-fashioned upright, and a gorgeous pump organ for their contributions.

The two songs that sounded the most changed were "Heavy Metal Drummer" and "I'm the Man Who Loves You." Jeff sort of prepped us for the former, admitting they had never tried it before, but Glenn did a good job of filling in where the samples usually start the song--and he twirled his drumsticks, much to the delight of all four of us who noticed! The band sped up "I'm the Man Who Loves You" to a pace more akin to Jeff's solo cadence, and of course, it went out to Susan Miller Tweedy, in attendance that day.

My favorite element of their show, however, was the pump organ. I was told it came from Neil's own collection, and several acts used it. In Wilco's set, it imbued the band's songs with a novel and beguiling element, especially on the likes of "Hummingbird" and "California Stars."

The band--or rather, Jeff--suffered a couple of minor gaffes, such as almost forgetting a line in "What Light" and referring to Pegi Young as "Patty," but they're only human. It certainly gives us something to talk about. Jeff's sarcastic sense of humor was on full display the first day, but the whole band seemed looser and more joyful the second. And who could blame them? I'd be beaming too if I knew that Neil and Pegi Young were set to join in for "I Shall Be Released" to close their set. I don't think I could've asked for a more perfect ending. Also, it was the first time I've felt a pang of regret knowing that I won't be able to make any of their shows together coming up in the next few weeks.

Wilco, Bridge School Benefit, Oct. 26, 2008

Of course, there were quite a few other musicians scheduled for the weekend, and it should come as no surprise that Neil Young himself rightfully garnered the lion's share of acclaim. He opened and closed the festivities, and he was especially busy on the second day, when he joined nearly all the performers on one song per set. These shows couldn't happen without him, but at the same time, he doesn't have to do as much as he does. I'm glad he chooses otherwise, however.

Neil Young, Bridge School Benefit, Oct. 26, 2008

It was my first time seeing Death Cab for Cutie and Norah Jones, both of whom defied my expectations based on cursory knowledge of their repertoire. Death Cab is one of those bands who I always assumed wouldn't be my thing, and besides, they grew far too successful far too quickly for me to investigate anyway. But their sound was tougher in parts than I expected, and I could even see the appeal of their delicate teen anthems.

Norah Jones probably could've gotten a pass just for covering Wilco's "Jesus etc." but I liked that she chose to highlight her rootsier influences and not the silky adult contemporary jazz that everyone assumes of her. Her backing players were pretty awesome too.

Cat Power and Smashing Pumpkins, both of whom I've seen in concert several times, were treats too. I haven't attended a Cat Power gig for a few years now, having tired of the emotional meltdown known as Chan Marshall's live show, but I gotta say she was noticeably more pulled together. She even jumped into the crowd on the second day--a big difference from her formerly withdrawn, retreating stance. And of course, her voice was as beautiful as ever. I almost didn't recognize the new arrangement for "I Don't Blame You" that opened the first show, and she was the first to get Neil onstage, with "Fortunate Son."

Cat Power, Bridge School Benefit, Oct. 26, 2008

The Smashing Pumpkins are often a love-them-or-hate-them proposition, but for this acoustic setting, they shed a large chunk of their bombast. I can't say I'll ever love Billy's voice, but the songs themselves were engaging and appealing. I would've liked it even better if they hadn't imposed Josh Groban on us for the closer "Disarm," the only hit among a set comprising new titles and obscure album tracks, but then again, that Billy Corgan has always been a contrary bastard.

Both nights ended with the group sing-along, and I was pleased to see Jeff Tweedy not only show up the second night, but take his place at the microphone as well (albeit with a forceful helping hand from Nels Cline). I guess his "rift" with Norah Jones had been repaired, as they shared a microphone for one of Neil's numbers. Chan even brought her dog out for the finale! And can I mention how much I loved the Native American dancer?

Bridge School Benefit, Oct. 26, 2008

You won't find me beating a path back to Shoreline too soon, but for this weekend, it felt good to be back under the tent.

See also:
» play one more for my radio sweetheart
» rosin smells and turpentine smells
» there's a dream that i see
» all of those yesterdays coming around

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