Wednesday, July 29, 2009

the voices in your ear

If I had known that Jon Brion would follow up his gig opening for Of Montreal with his own show at the Swedish American Hall, I might've spared myself a trip to Southern California last weekend--but probably not.

Jon Brion, Swedish American Hall, 07-25-09Jon Brion, Swedish American Hall, July 25, 2009: I should've seen this coming. After all, Jon appended two visits to Chicago with intimate, hastily arranged gigs. It made perfect sense to do the same in San Francisco, but there was not a peep until Flanny announced it at last week's show. Fortunately, no flight changes were required to accommodate this extra date.

Wanna know the difference between a Jon Brion gig at Largo and one away from Largo? By my estimation, about a dozen guitars, a half-dozen microphones, and Flanny's intro. The moving truck parked outside the Swedish American Hall should've tipped us off that this wouldn't be a half-assed out-of-town gig, but it wasn't until we made it inside that the realization hit. The A/V club would soon come to session.

Pops and clicks from what turned out to be the keyboard mixer haunted the first portion of Jon's show, slightly marring the ever rueful "Someone Else's Problem Now" and the exquisite looping of "Strings That Tie to You." Quickly consulting with his techs and switching to guitar seemed to take care of the situation and brought us a couple more of Jon's mainstays, notably a Django-style "Me Myself and I."

Jon Brion, Swedish American Hall, 07-25-09

"Further Along" featured the first song build of the night, but Jon's second sortie, for "Someone to Watch Over Me," drew distinctly rapturous applause. Not that he was playing to crickets before, but the reaction clearly kicked up a notch--deservedly so--for Jon's marked reimagining of the classic song.

I suspect, however, that this bravura performance didn't prepare the audience for Jon's next bravura performance. That is, he fired up the video mixers, cued up two separate video clips (one of a Latin band and the other of some sitar players), tickled many, many keys, and brought it all together for "More Than This." Sigh.

Admitting that he mainly wanted to do standards in the style of the White Album (see "Someone to Watch Over Me" above), Jon checked in with the audience and came away with a good sampling of suggestions spanning his original material and covers. He generally opted for understatement for the former; the usually bombastic "Not Ready Yet" landed on acoustic guitar, and the song's customary middle freak-out translated to a flurry of nylon-string notes. "Ruin My Day," meanwhile, swooped in from the heights, settled into its more customary cadence, and eased out prettily and inconspicuously.

Jon Brion, Swedish American Hall, 07-25-09Emmitt Rhodes and Brian Eno, however, enjoyed the full treatment. Jon entertained us with "Knock Yourself Out" while he tried to figure out how he was going to carry off the former. I don't think anyone doubted that he could loop the outro, as he announced to no one in particular, but hearing it was another matter, as the song's relatively humble piano-based beginning opened up to a grand denouement of drums, guitar, and probably a number of other instruments too.

Though Jon claimed to send out the Eno selection to three people in the audience, I suspect the numbers are a little higher. With the energy he poured into the song, he might as well have been playing to 3,000. That pounding drumbeat, those penetrating piano notes, met by the eviscerating bass and guitar--I sometimes wonder if it feels as good to play the song as it does to hear it. My guess: No--it probably feels even better.

As we approached the end of the set, Jon teased out a brief piano interlude that he called "an antidote to white noise" and granted a fan's request to do "Knock Yourself Out" again. This time, he opted for the celeste.

He would also switch on the video mixers a couple more times: first, for "Felix Goes West," a black-and-white cartoon for which he provided live accompaniment. The one part I could identify was a a ragtime reading of "Lithium," and believe it or not, it suited the old-time footage nicely.

Jon Brion, Swedish American Hall, 07-25-09

For the final selection of the evening, he layered at least three different segments: one of a different Latino band, this time one with a more troubadour-like feel numbering only three men using guitars and fiddles, as well as two different theremin players. I'm oversimplifying, but through Jon's manipulations, they morphed into a string section for a song I haven't heard in ages, Cheap Trick's "Voices."

I've previously blogged about the version of "Voices" I heard at my first Jon Brion show, but it's been missing from his setlists for a while. Sounding nothing like that rendition from a decade (!) ago, tonight's reading lost the tinkling music boxes and traded them for rocking riffs and disc scratching. If anything, it harked back to his earlier statement about playing songs in the style of the White Album, with drawn-out arcs, dips, and drama.

Before leaving the stage, Jon mentioned that tonight's gig was a "recon" mission for future visits. I don't believe it for a second, and I don't need my friends who've seen his shows in New York and Chicago to confirm those suspicions. Still, the visit sure was nice while it lasted.

Setlist
--piano/Jeopardy theme/If I Only Had a Brain
--Someone Else's Problem Now
--Strings That Tie to You
--Me, Myself, and I
--No Excuse to Cry
--Further Along
--Punch-Drunk theme/Here We Go
--jazzy piano
--Someone to Watch Over Me
--piano
--More Than This [video mashup]
--Knock Yourself Out
--Promises I've Made
--Not Ready Yet
--Ruin My Day
--Baby's on Fire
--piano
--"Felix Goes West"
--Knock Yourself Out
--Voices

See also:
» first-time high
» public service announcement

Monday, July 27, 2009

first-time high

This blog may indicate otherwise, but I like seeing gigs at home, and I love it when the Bay Area get exclusive engagements. Take, for example, Jon Brion's sole date with Of Montreal, scheduled for the Fox Theater in Oakland, of all places. I'm in!

Of Montreal, Fox Theater, 07-24-09Of Montreal/Jon Brion, The Fox Theater (Oakland), July 24, 2009: I admit it; Google was my friend in discovering that Jon Brion was scheduled to open for Of Montreal in a location that happened to be extraordinarily convenient to me. The moral of the story: Repeated and semi-pathological Googling can work to your advantage. The jury is out, however, on whether the same can be said for broadcasting such actions publicly.

The last time I saw Jon play in the Bay Area, he was opening for Evan Dando; he brought some loopers and a ukelele, but he had to borrow an acoustic guitar from Ben Kweller, the other opener. This time, he had the full setup: a complete drum set, several guitars, the Chamberlin, a celeste, a mini piano (the first time I've seen it), that analog synth thing, a forest of electric cables, and so much more I can't name.

If there's a common thread running through Jon's shows outside of Los Angeles, it's that he aims to please. That's not to say he abandons his muse; who else would, upon taking the stage, serenade a predominantly teenage audience with Billie Holiday? Jon also represented himself well with his pick of originals, covering country, power pop, ballads, and the ambient. But if you've hit enough of Jon's shows at Largo, you may have seen his more internal side, those gigs performed head down, with little chance of surfacing. This isn't the norm when he's on the road.

Jon Brion, Fox Theater, 07-24-09

The young woman next to me professed conversion after the athletic build of "Girl I Knew," but the majority of the crowd will likely remember the two requests. Even I was pleased to hear a couple of tunes that Jon doesn't tackle often at Largo, despite repeated calls for them. The first was "Helter Skelter," initially reimagined on Chamberlin, then shifting to a ragtime cadence, and finally rocking out with the addition of drums and guitar. I don't know how many young 'uns caught this detail, but the "Only Shallow" quote over the coda's dissonance may have been worth the price of admission.

"I Put a Spell on You" would turn out to be the final song of the night--or, more accurately, the last four songs of the night. Jon started it on a beat that recalled "Disco Duck" and, after a long gestation, introduced some bass notes to the blips and beeps. He teased the audience with a snippet of Beastie Boys via the vocoder, but went without ornamentation for the screeches so essential to the song. That rebound would be short-lived as he plucked the natural complement to the electro beat he'd so expertly established: Daft Punk, of course!

Jon Brion, Fox Theater, 07-24-09

During Jon's set, at least a few ticket holders bellowed their appreciation, but in the transition between acts, I heard from several people around me, including the photographers in the pit. Jon isn't unknown these days, but in truth, not a lot of people--even those in the music business--have seen him in action. It was lovely to hear these concert veterans express their wonder and amazement at what he does.

I'm ill equipped and entirely unqualified to write about Of Montreal, a band overwhelmingly well represented on the Internet and adored in real life, so I'll try to limit myself to a couple of observations. Firstly, I'm glad that some bands take drugs so that the rest of us don't have to. Mostly, though, they left me wondering if it was like this seeing Roxy Music, Prince and the Revolution, or, er, Mummenschanz at their most audacious. (I might be kidding about that last one.)

I loved the spectacle, the fan base, the crush of bodies, and even the songs. The routines on stage were matched by the choreographed moves of the front row, as much as a jam-packed collection of bodies could maneuver. Where the crew showered us with glitter and feathers (that I'm still finding in pockets and bags), the audience answered with balloons they brought along. I'm often among the first to raise an eyebrow at literal interpretations or obvious apings of the band's oeuvre, but I had to smile when the disco-ball-face ninja met his DIY hand-puppet equivalent--rendered in felt, no less!

Of Montreal, Fox Theater, 07-24-09

And I can see exactly why Kevin Barnes commands such a following. He's opening up a whole new world for these kids; they may appreciate it even more in the years to come.

Of Montreal, Fox Theater, 07-24-09

Jon has namechecked and covered Of Montreal at his gigs, and they returned at least the first part of that gesture at the very end, dedicating "Moonage Daydream" to him. Otherwise, he didn't join the band onstage during the show. One can hope, though, for such a union in the future.

p.s. Patricia at Spin Earth has a much better review of the Of Montreal portion of the show.

Setlist for Jon Brion
--Foolin' Myself
--Why Do You Do This to Yourself
--Girl I Knew
--Over Our Heads
--Helter Skelter/Only Shallow
--Please Stay Away from Me
--I Put a Spell on You/Around the World

See also:
» Spin Earth: of Montreal Alter Minds and Induce Dance Fever at Oakland Show
» no one will be a stranger
» with soul power

Thursday, July 23, 2009

lost inside adorable illusion

You know the drill by now: If I'm at Largo on a Thursday (or a Saturday--heck, or a Sunday), I'm also going to be there on Friday for Jon Brion's gig. You can set your clock by it.

Jon Brion, Largo at the Coronet, July 17, 2009: First things first: Jon didn't wear exactly the same outfit on Friday as he had on Thursday. In fact, we'd see a costume change before the end of the night, but I'll get to that eventually.

Jon started off with what he ironically deemed a "whiz-bang opener," but following that, he launched into a block of originals, including what sounded like a new song on electric guitar. Along the way, he piled the percussion on "Happy with You," and made liberal use of the whammy bar for "Girl I Knew." "Here We Go," though, was the treasure; Jon changed up the bridge, the additional notes subtly recasting the song and nudging it off its waltz-time foundation.

I've attempted to describe Jon's audio/video forays in earlier posts, but I suspect my accounts have raised more questions than they've answered. This time, I can be clear: He owned it tonight, layering footage of a Latin band, sprinkling in video of a sax player, and working his own magic to emerge with--ta da!--"More Than This." Let the swooning commence.

The requests commenced with a somewhat obscure Aztec Camera track, but it took a while before Jon figured out what else he wanted to tackle. The mashup that ensued got off to an inauspicious start with a Cat Stevens tune, but I don't think anyone expected Jon to land on "Wake Me Up Before You Go Go" not once but twice--that second time under the cloak of "Strawberry Fields."

In an unusual move--and one he apologized for--Jon wanted to make up for the previous week's rendition of "Shine On You Crazy Diamond." I don't know what the earlier performance entailed, but this night, it required a music stand, lyrics sheets, and the vibes. No do-overs were needed this time.

Then it was back to the videotape. Essentially, in support of footage of an old Creole fiddle player, Jon cued up a performance of Ravi Shankar and added some accents, such as echo and diffusion effects, as well as his own instrumentation. In other words, it was his one-man band conceit, further amplified. Jon would also splice in video of a guitar lesson and '50s-era singers before the song, and the main set, ended.

I was under the impression that Jon no longer performed encores, but I was wrong--and glad for it. When Jon asked if "Michel" was still around, Evonne and I gaped. Yes, "Michel" was Michel Gondry, the film director, former rock drummer, and Jon's occasional collaborator. It was Evonne's first time seeing Michel Gondry at Largo and only my second time, but neither of us would've complained if it had been the hundredth occasion.

Jon prompted Michel to start it up, and I swear the first beat he threw out was the groove from Doves' "Compulsion"--which, in turn, always reminds me of Blondie's "Rapture." Jon accompanied him on guitar and eventually took up the vocals. They first landed on "White Lines," but Jon wisely chose not to mimic the rap, and I loved hearing "Heart of Glass," even with Jon's made-up lyrics replacing the forgotten words. By now, Jon had taken the lead, with Michel not missing a beat (no pun intended) and riding through a variety of styles before the end of the set.

But we had yet to reach the end of the night. In the Little Room, we filled the front row, taking the equivalents of tables 21 and 40 (sorry, Evonne and Daniella) on Fairfax. Jon wasted no time in asking Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings to join him. The three of them formed something like a songwriters' circle; it could've been our proximity, but the intimacy was unmatched, and it was amazing to watch their silent communication so close up.

Gillian confessed that she'd seen less of Jon's show than she wanted, but Jon urged her to do whatever she felt like. Gill's warning of a "wicked old-timey" selection didn't deter Jon, and he accompanied them on the tragic tale.

For the most part, Gillian and David helmed this set, with Gillian assuming the duties for the first half, David for the conclusion, and Jon stepping up for one song in between. Jon's familiarity with Gillian and David's songs was evident, as he added harmonies and even offered a couple of suggestions. They also urged Jon to the piano when Largo's other favorite piano player didn't materialize. Along the same lines, it was great to hear Gillian supplying harmonies to "My Baby Left Me."

I got in a request for Robyn Hitchcock, despite David and Gillian's trepidation over the high notes. An audience member using a silly voice asked for the last song of the night, "Sweet Tooth," thus marking the end of David and Gillian's July residency. I doubt that this will be the last we see of them; I just hope they return soon.

Set 1
--piano
--Happy with You
--Over Our Heads
--new song?
--Why Do You Do This to Yourself
--Girl I Knew
--Punch Drunk theme/Here We Go
--More Than This
--Walk Out to Winter
--Autumn Leaves (?)
--It's a Wild World/Wake Me Up Before You Go Go/I'm Free/Waterloo Sunset/Wake Me Up Before You Go Go
--Lock My Heart and Throw Away the Key (?)
--Me, Myself, and I
--Shine On You Crazy Diamond
--video

encore
with Michel Gondry

--White Lines/Heart of Glass/Funkytown/Miss You

Set 2
with David Rawlings and Gillian Welch
--I'm Here to Get My Baby Out of Jail
--It's Too Easy
--Ruby
--Throw Me a Rope
--My Baby Left Me
--Luminous Rose
--30 Days
--Sweet Tooth

See also:
» i've been traveling near and far
» you don't know the meaning of the blues

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

i've been traveling near and far

I hope no one was holding their breath after the last Rawlings Machine show at Largo; that would've been a long, asphyxiating three-plus months between gigs. But the duo has returned to Los Angeles, with one crucial variation: They were operating under the Gillian Welch moniker, with all the fanfare that such an occasion entails.

Gillian Welch, Largo at the Coronet, July 16, 2009: For those playing along at home, this marks my very first Gillian Welch show; my purist predilections forbid me from counting all those other performances I've seen at Largo as Gillian gigs. If you find that distinction needlessly arbitrary, you probably won't want to know how I organize my music collection either.

Despite my rookie status, I knew not to expect the Rawlings Machine, and as much as I loved those shows, especially the gigs closer to home, I was ready for another perspective. On that count, Gillian and David did not disappoint.

If I had to single out one factor that differentiated this show from the previous Rawlings Machine outings, it would have to be the patina of professionalism on the proceedings. Not that they're going to take their act to Branson any time soon, but they appeared to at least consult a setlist and Gillian even launched several great quips. The highlight had to be her Oscar-worthy performance as the bikini-clad woman sitting atop her boyfriend's shoulders at Bonnaroo and flashing the musicians--she didn't act out that part--all to the accompaniment of "Look at Miss Ohio."

It didn't hurt that they opened with "I Want to Sing That Rock and Roll"--for my money, the absolute best example from their catalog of their harmonizing--or that they hit so many songs from Time (The Revelator), including the title track, my current go-to tune. Though the previous week's show included several new songs, the only one they reprised was "It's Too Easy," featuring Gillian on vocals, and her rich timbre took the song in a whole other direction separate from David's reading.

This being Largo, all sorts of friends joined them, though only after a generous run by the duo--so that they could "rehearse," Gillian claimed. After a short break, Gillian and David came back for their second set and brought out Benmont Tench and Morgan Nagler for, of course, "Sweet Tooth."

John Paul Jones was next, lending mandolin and harmonies to "Wayside/Back in Time." They kept him onstage for the rest of the show, as Sara and Sean Watkins, then Jon Brion emerged for the remainder of the set. The supergroup kicked off with what they called their "theme song," which turned out to be a delightful version of "Hot Corn Cold Corn," though with slightly less spit and twang than Gillian and David unleash on their own. We thought "Caleb Meyer" would be the final song, until the musicians tramped back out, playing their instruments, Von Trapp-style.

Not long after, we convened in the Little Room for what Click and Clack would call the third half of the evening and what could be considered an unofficial Watkins Family Hour. Many of the principals from the earlier show dropped in, but they welcomed some new faces, such as Tom "Bruiser" Brousseau on an Everly Brothers tune and Fiona Apple on a few songs.

Dave Rawlings' guitar bowed before he did, as he handed it off midsong to Jon, and there was the matter of Gillian and Fiona making their introductions to one another onstage. Dave and Gillian eventually stepped up for the final number, "The Pines," and took over the second verse. Of course, Gillian and Dave enjoy more than a decade of singing and playing together, but there was no doubt in my mind who turned in the best rendition.

See also:
» when you gonna live your life right
» hotter than a pepper spout

Monday, July 06, 2009

where the blacktop cracks

I can still think of lots of good reasons to live in California: the gorgeous landscape, the diverse population, and the abundance of avocados, to name just a few. Also, it doesn't hurt that Wilco scheduled six shows for this state alone. For my last gig on this run, we crossed just a few yards over the border to Harveys Outdoor Arena in Lake Tahoe--the band's first concert in this town.

Wilco, Harveys Outdoor Arena, June 28, 2009: I may be forced to defer to the rock tourism by-laws, but I count my longest streak of Wilco shows at eight, on a tour that started in Canada, weaved down the Western seaboard, then jumped over to Denver. In between, we skipped a gig in San Diego, which is why we may have to await the refs' decision. This year's journey, which saw no interruptions in the schedule, falls just short of that figure and equals the tally from a hallowed pre-blog run in 2004.
Wilco, Harveys Outdoor Arena, June 28, 2009
Photo courtesy of bbop
I don't throw these numbers around to show off--quite the contrary. Mostly, these sums serve to remind me of my limits. We call it the Wall (not to be confused with the Great Wall), and it's that seventh charge that seems to get me, when fatigue and homesickness finally take their toll. You could even argue we had it relatively easy this time, spending nearly a week in Los Angeles, then coming back to my home turf for a couple days. But our trigger fingers allowed little rest, and I'd been running ragged for days before we piled into the car early Sunday morning (albeit with bags of delicious French-style baked goods) for the four-hour drive to Lake Tahoe.

But the yin to exhaustion's yang is the second wind, and somewhere along I-50, the adrenalin returned and spirits picked up. And once stationed at Harveys, a sumptuous bathroom break didn't hurt either. (Next time, we're going for the bathrobes.)

Regular readers may have noticed that I like to create a semblance of an arc in my posts; the same applies to my rock tourism. Because I see so many Wilco shows, I often search for (or manufacture?) a continuum linking their gigs. It's the way my brain catalogs the experiences.

So as the Berkeley date seemed to renounce the Saratoga show, this Harveys performance, I'd hazard, expanded on the previous evening's triumph. It didn't matter that the crowd was nowhere near capacity, leading Jeff to call us "cute" and offering to hug everyone. It made no difference that the promoters didn't set up a barricade, leaving us to partially police ourselves. In fact, it was such a casual show that the singer ducked out during the second song for a pee break; though his ever professional bandmates spotted him for the duration of the track, Glenn threatened to start his own stampede toward the john.

Wilco, Harvey's Outdoor Arena, 6-28-09

This goofiness didn't, however, distract from the music. If the collective spirit distinguished the Berkeley show, then maybe Tahoe benefited from the mountain air or the crowd sparseness, allowing each note to be savored without distraction. The likes of "Bull Black Nova" and "One Wing" rung out, though in entirely different ways, and I remember thinking that "Side with the Seeds" couldn't have been a more appropriate pick. Wait, I take that back--"Casino Queen" was the evening's no-brainer, even if Jeff had to whip up the intro twice before he got it right.

The evening's rendition of "Spiders" is also worth reporting, if only for the comedy. Jeff picked out a textbook-example pimply, long-haired, Converse-clad teenager, who responded with the classic guileless "who me?" before stepping up. But he wasn't alone. A friend followed, and the two of them assumed strumming duties. That too was a temporary situation, as the friend seized control and convinced Jeff to relinquish the guitar entirely. The second kid was pretty damn good, to tell you the truth--someone has been practicing at home! After the song ended, Jeff held up his "mangled" and "smoking" pick so that everyone could witness the duo's handiwork.

Wilco, Harvey's Outdoor Arena, 6-28-09Any encore with "Outtasite" is all right by me, especially on the last evening we were to spend together (for now). Nels and Pat continue to win over crowds with their Fred-and-Ginger routine on "Hoodoo Voodoo," and I'm thankful for "I'm a Wheel" because it allows the band to sneak under curfews--and for other reasons too.

Despite my earlier protestations, seven does not, in fact, suffice. I've been doing that silly thing of checking the band's tour schedule and hoping for some autumn dates, even when other domestic concerns are crowding my agenda. I take comfort, though, in knowing that Wilco dates are never far away.

Okkervil River, Harvey's Outdoor Arena, 6-28-09The Tahoe show marked the third gig we attended with Okkervil River opening. It had been a number of years since I saw them in concert, and though I have good memories of them, I haven't investigated their music for a while. As a live band, they were wonderful. Their earnestness and effort were irresistible, even after three shows, and I promise to give them another try when they come back to town.

See also:
» waiting for a postcard
» i have no idea how this happens
» it's become so obvious
» can't find the time to write my mind

Saturday, July 04, 2009

can't find the time to write my mind

In my rush to get us to Bakesale Betty before Wilco's Berkeley show, I forgot my camera at home. At the time, it didn't matter so much, since the stage at the Greek Theatre is notoriously tall and imposing. Little did I know, however, that the night would include some prime photo ops. The photo-free account, then, will have to do instead.

Wilco, Greek Theatre, June 27, 2009: Berkeley, unlike Saratoga, I have some claims on, and I'd better get used to it, as it appears that the Greek Theatre may be Wilco's new Bay Area home for a while, barring platinum-level sales and/or prominent placement in an Apple ad.

Two years ago, someone teetered at the edge of the big 4-0 at the Greek, but early on, we heard indications that this show could surpass that night. A staffer mentioned that the show was fully sold out of all 8,000 tickets, and the scalpers seemed to have no luck scoring extras. Up front, we pitied the photographers stuffed into the rather narrow workspace, the barriers pushed as far forward as possible to accommodate all the ticketholders ready to take over the hillside.

Bottom line, Berkeley shaped up as an antidote and repudiation of the Saratoga experience. Though double the capacity, the Greek felt substantially more like a rock show and not, in the words of a couple of witnesses, a corporate gig. Or perhaps, squeezed in as we were, we had no choice but to pay attention.

Simply, everything clicked between the audience and the band. Jeff remarked that it was their favorite place to play and didn't seem to hold it against us that the city had turned his oldest son into a hippie. (On a more pedantic note, let me say I'm pretty sure he meant the Bay Area in general and not the Greek specifically, as I've heard him testify to the same effect at other local venues.) In any case, it didn't feel at all like scripted stage banter, and I'm confident it wasn't.

When we first stumbled into the pit, we welcome a new addition: a young boy who, earlier that day, had arrived with his family and took their place in line after us. I recalled them from the last show at the Greek, and we urged him to come to the front between Brianne and myself. B and I held strong suspicions about what might happen, but I don't think either of us wanted to make any promises. Also, there was the matter of the high stage and the contortions necessary to make it work. We offered Jamie a small warning, but I'm pretty sure it didn't register.

Of course, we were right on the money. Jamie helped the cause greatly by locating the pick tossed down at him, and we got confirmation that he was the night's chosen soloist. Even with Jeff sprawled on his side and hanging half off the stage, it became apparent that Jamie would need a helping hand, and B and I sprung into action, each grabbing one of Jamie's legs and lifting him up. The funny thing is that B and I shared maybe a moment's communication but didn't consult with the liftee at all. He didn't seem to mind, though, distracted by bigger events. As his reward, Jamie's solo was deemed "tasteful" by the songwriter--high praise indeed.

For the first time in this string of shows, I could actually hear the vocals, thanks to the audience-mix monitors placed at the edge of the stage. Thus, Jeff's dedications to Susie came through, and the lyrics to the new songs, which were still mostly mysteries to me, finally registered. As if "Spiders" weren't already loaded enough, something about this gig fired up the band even more, moving both Jeff and John to get some air in the course of the song. Closing out, Nels and Pat left everyone with an impressive parting shot of their guitar rivalry on "Hoodoo Voodoo."

See also:
» when nobody gives a fuck
» it's become so obvious
» back in your old neighborhood

Friday, July 03, 2009

when nobody gives a fuck

I often stretch the definition of where I grew up, but let me be clear: It was not in Saratoga. Those 15 minutes down the freeway (that didn't even exist when I lived in San Jose) might as well have been a light-year. And after seeing Wilco's show at the Saratoga Mountain Winery, I couldn't distance myself fast enough.

Wilco, Saratoga Mountain Winery, June 26, 2009: If it weren't for our front-row seats, we likely would've spent another night in Los Angeles (and at Largo). And immediately following this gig, I sort of wished we had. But a week later, after a couple more concerts and allowing for some reflection, I'm glad we were witness to this most unusual of Wilco dates.

Wilco, Saratoga Mountain Winery, 6-26-09In the Bay Area, a handful of venues bear the brunt of my venue snobbery. I love to gripe about the Shoreline Amphitheater, but I'm rarely tempted to go there. On paper, though, I'm the target audience for the Saratoga Mountain Winery, what with the parade of reunion shows and adult alternative acts that comprise the venue's schedule. I've resisted so far, even forgoing shows by many of my favorite musicians, but I couldn't hold out this time.

I admit that the Mountain Winery is a gorgeous, smallish venue, and the view from the top is breathtaking--if Silicon Valley is your idea of a panorama. Our seats, in combination with the low stage, made the show feel more intimate than the engagements we'd already seen (and were yet to see) on this leg of their tour.

This proximity would prove to be a problem. Not long into the show, a patron approached the band and complained to Jeff about the sound mix. Thus began an extended--and at least unilaterally undesired--conversation between the two. This happened on the opposite side of the stage, so we heard only half the conversation, but I can assure you that it went on for too long.

I know some of the best rock shows are built on crowd interaction and the energy between the band and the audience. But this was not that kind of show or that kind of crowd. These were not fans wanting a short word or some acknowledgement from the musicians, nor did they show the exuberance that can sometimes spill into a goofy faux pas or inspire a silly riff. Instead, they seemed to treat the music as merely a backdrop to their drinking, grinding, texting, and assorted other activities.

Wilco, Saratoga Mountain Winery, 6-26-09

Before the end of the gig, we'd see two sets of middle-aged couples grinding on each other, more than one unwelcome introduction, far too many electronic interferences, and one rather unhappy band. Jeff can be known for his sarcasm onstage, but his horror was evident--except, apparently, to the couples in question--and comical, whether he was pretending to adjust the mix, reprimanding a guy sitting directly in front of him for videotaping the show, or trying to block the sight of an overly amorous couple. And that was all in the front row!

Wilco, Saratoga Mountain Winery, 6-26-09More damning were the reactions from other members of the band, especially Glenn, who's usually so cool and easygoing. We could see him lodging complaints with his fellow band mates; also, he flexed his pre-"I'm the Man Who Loves You" moves to the concertgoers in the side seats, away from the pests in the front.

We later learned that was just the half of it. A world of nuisances were hidden from us, many of which we were happy to not know. Would you believe this is supposed to be one of the nicest parts of the South Bay?

Anyway, I hate dwelling on the bad stuff, and I have to say that the troublemakers were a small--if conspicuous--minority. Look past them, though, and a rapt, supportive crowd emerged. Overall, the band transcended the interruptions and put on a fine show. They took advantage of the sylvan setting to pull off "Remember the Mountain Bed," even if John forgot some of the lyrics. It would've been a great night for "Misunderstood," but the "nothing"s would surely have been lost on the intended audience. But hey, we sang "Happy Birthday" to Matrix, even if he had to bring out his birthday cake himself.

Wilco, Saratoga Mountain Winery, 6-26-09

The early curfew, for once, proved a blessing, putting the brakes on this semi-trainwreck of a show. This time, I don't mind saying it: I hope Wilco never comes back.

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» it's become so obvious

Thursday, July 02, 2009

it's become so obvious

As you may have noticed, I go to great lengths to see Wilco, but sometimes I luck out and settle into a town for more than a day--say, for a Chicago residency or those multiple-night stands the band used to do at the Fillmore. This year, the extended roadshow landed a little closer to home, bringing Wilco to the Wiltern for three dates, and then some.

Wilco, the Wiltern, June 22, 23, and 25, 2009: With my deepest apologies to Vladimir Nabokov: Los Angeles, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul.

Wilco, the Wiltern, 6-22-09

Gah, I love this city. Before the week was over, we'd nab tickets to a Page-Off, eat far too much delicious food (Kogi! Jitlada! Hugo's! Langer's!), and take our seats among the Tonight Show studio audience, to scratch the surface. Oh, and there was the matter of a trifecta of Wilco shows.

The temptation is to cast any of Wilco's stretched-out stays as a mini-residency and to see which rare cuts they'll dig out for the shows. After last year's blowout, they've proven they can play everything, but on a more practical note, it appears that they work from a general template for each tour.

Wilco, the Wiltern, 6-22-09

Thus, though I nursed a vague hope that the West Coast would hear John Stirratt's "It's Just That Simple," I didn't really think it would happen--and in fact, it didn't. Instead, our reward came in such selections as "Shouldn't Be Ashamed," complete with a substantially reimagined solo by Nels, as well as "In a Future Age" and "Box Full of Letters," to name just a few.

I am, however, burying the lede, as the single event already reported all over the blogosphere is Feist's surprise appearance for the live debut of "You and I." I remember seeing Carla Bozulich sing "Forget the Flowers" with Wilco a number of years ago and Jeff remarking that it was a written as a duet, but they could never get anyone to sing it with them. Oh, how times have changed.

Wilco, the Wiltern, 6-25-09

In some ways, Feist looked more at ease than Jeff, though he was clearly delighted with the collaboration. Then again, she's had a lot more experience jumping in and out of musical combos. Regardless, they charmed the room, and I felt so fortunate to have been there.

Wilco, the Wiltern, 6-23-09Speaking of stage presence, the strongest impressions I got from this show--confirmed further by the gigs to follow--had everything to do with the band's confidence and joy. For some time now, Wilco shows have included a heap of smiles, compliments, inside jokes, and hugs, but it's been easy to lose track of those lighter moments amid the band's towering musicianship. For these shows, though these elements remained, I think we saw one other aspect emerging: The band really has a frontman now. At the least, they're getting closer to it. Or in the words of Flanagan, "Tweedy's hair is fantastic."

There's so much else I could cover from these three days, but I'm already way behind on my blogging, so I have to skim over the singer as a pitchman, my favorite soloist of this swing, the guest percussionist, and extremely generous benefactors. (Also: Krycek!) As far as I'm concerned, though, Wilco and the Wiltern continue their winning streak.

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» i've run out of metaphors