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.
In 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.
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!
More 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.
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.
» it's become so obvious