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

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