When I really want to see a gig, it takes a lot to deter me, but a couple of words, when applied to a concert, instantly inspire dread: "free" and "festival." Throw Wilco into the mix, however, and all previous statements fly out the door. Thus, we made our way to Vancouver's David Lam Park for the band's free show--quadrennial international sports gathering be damned!
Wilco, David Lam Park, February 13, 2010: I sometimes complain about Wilco playing bigger and bigger venues, but the truth is they're nowhere near being a household name. For example, at their Bridge School appearances, they've hovered near the bottom of the bill, and in Vancouver, despite the band's solid local fan base, it took a little while for David Lam Park to fill up. Heck, we got there at an hour that would usually give me the hives, yet managed to gain a decent foothold at or near the barrier. The park would eventually reach capacity later in the night, but a friend who had to wait for spaces to open up before being allowed in reported seeing a steady stream of people leaving, even as the band played.
If you check the archives, you'll see that Wilco last played Vancouver 2.5 years ago. It's no wonder then that the crowd could barely hold its anticipation, breaking out in a chant--not the norm at Wilco shows--before the band took the stage. I have my doubts, though, that this chorus had more to do with the crowd's fervor than with the Olympic spirit, as the newbie nature of the audience became evident soon enough. For example, I overheard the teenage boys in front of me gushing over "Impossible Germany," which they called "the most beautiful song ever," but showing little overt reaction to older titles. Then again, it's entirely possible that they weren't moved by those other songs.
I don't need to reiterate all the asterisks that accompany a festival show, but I noticed the band made a couple of crucial choices to appeal to a more general-interest audience and not just the die-hards. For example, they passed up a couple of recent concert staples: the "Jesus etc." sing-along and, sadly, "Broken Arrow." However, I'm a little perplexed why they didn't highlight the most recent album as much as they could've, given this was (1) a good platform, with new fans there for the picking, and (2) their first show in Vancouver since the LP's release.
As they had been for most of the tour, the group was in good spirits, with Jeff frequently stating how much the band loved the surroundings, joking about taking part in the Olympic contests, and reciprocating a thumbs-up sign at an audience member that, I assume, was flashing the same at him. That cheeriness tends to suit my personality and preferences, but I have to say it's a little jarring to see these musicians smiling and giggling at each other while they're playing out the coda to "Misunderstood."
Before the show began, we watched Nate the drum tech spend five-plus minutes ensuring that Quatchi (pictured right), the cutest of the Olympic mascots, was properly secured beside Glenn's drumkit. Adjustments were made, tape was utilized, and finally, Quatchi reported for duty.
Less tenderly treated were Quatchi No. 2 and Mukmuk, brought onstage by Nels and Mike, respectively. Mike seized the mascots for the clamor of keyboards he unleashes on "Shot in the Arm," willfully smooshing their fuzzy, innocent faces against the console. He eventually reached for the much more prosaic pillow he's been using since at least last year, but by then, the damage had been done. I was relieved to see Nels rescue Quatchi No. 2 a few songs later.
An unforeseen benefit of this large-scale show was the excellent PA system; the band sounded perfectly in balance, which is no small feat in big, makeshift outdoor spaces. This technical detail may have kicked the show up a notch above the typical festival fare. While Wilco benefited from the excellent equipment, Califone especially reaped the rewards, bringing to light many of the finer components of their songs.
Speaking of Califone, I started listening to them shortly after my Wilco conversion. Since then, I've seen them several times in concert, though all before I began blogging and not for several years. This spate of shows reminded me of those early impressions, and this time, we got a dose of Tim Rutili's sense of humor too, whether he was relating the band's journey to Victoria or dismissing local vernacular.
The event MCs described Califone's music as "cinematic," which surely applies, but that characterization only hints at the group's range. I can throw more labels at you: At times they're driving; at others, esoteric. They have two drummers and a whole load of unusual percussive elements, yet the banjo figures prominently. Sometimes, they use words in their songs, but they'll let the instrumentation speak for itself for long stretches. In short, they're an entity unto themselves, and I want to hear more (again).
Earlier in the day, we had caught two acts on the bill preceding Wilco and Califone. Bollywood Olympics was pretty great, but I can't say the same for the dreadful local band that followed them. In fact, the group was so appalling that I won't even bother naming them. If anything, they served up a rueful reminder of how lucky we are that bands like Wilco and Califone do what they do.
And now we reach the final foodie filing for this trip. My biggest foodie geek-out occurred on our first night in town, when I spied an immersion circulator in action at Refuel--coincidentally, mere steps from where we watched the Olympic torch on its journey and on the same street as the excellent Zulu Records. However, I didn't take a photo. We also enjoyed a fine round of Japadogs, which makes me ponder the possibilities of an itinerary centered around notable purveyors of encased meats, but Japadogs is well covered in the blogosphere and elsewhere. Instead, I'll conclude this round of reportage with Siegal's Bagels tribute to the Games--a fitting summation of a week of adventures.
» upwards to the vanguards
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» are the roads you travel rough