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."
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