Tuesday, April 06, 2010

if this was still new to me

For someone with no ties to Pennsylvania, I've seen an awful lot of shows in the state. It dates back to my best friend's stint at Penn, but it picked up steam with--who else?--Wilco, starting with the band's concert at Messiah College on Oct. 12, 2002, to be exact. This time, my travels took me to Scranton, a city I'd previously known only as the punchline on The Office. Ultimately, though, Wilco's appearance at the Scranton Cultural Center further confirmed the Keystone State's reputation as host to the kind of gigs I want to see.

Scranton Cultural CenterWilco, Scranton Cultural Center, March 31, 2010: I can't tell you how hard it was to schedule this trip. First, there was the matter of two can't-miss gigs in my general part of the world--and at the last minute, a third show was announced, though it turned out to be untenable. Then there was a hotly anticipated restaurant reservation to secure--Heidi, I'm still not sure how you did it, but I'm eternally grateful for your handiwork!

Adding to my hesitation was the fear that I had too heavily front-loaded my year in rock tourism, what with a jaunt through the Pacific Northwest already under my belt, the usual SoCal expeditions proceeding apace, and a visit to Chicago shoehorned in. However, I couldn't resist the promise of an evening with Wilco, and with my friends' guidance, it all came together.

If you've been reading this blog and wondering why I see this band again and again--well, I don't necessarily blame you. Also, after Wilco's Chicago residency, where they set out to cover their entire catalog, it might seem even more redundant to add to my concert count (whatever it is these days). But even for someone who's seen more Wilco shows than anyone should admit to, I can tell you the band can still deliver surprises and delights, as they did at this gig.

There's no doubt in my mind that the acoustic portion of these performances have lifted these shows above the norm, and within these mini-sets, two staples stand out even further. The first is "Spiders," which I first remember hearing at Jeff Tweedy's solo concerts in 2001. Just last month, I was musing over a whole wave of fans who've never heard the acoustic version for themselves, but it appears that situation will be, in part, remedied. I wasn't one of the fans incensed by the song's transformation in the studio, but I can't deny that hearing the band's acoustic treatment didn't bring tears to my eyes.

The second was the return of "Laminated Cat"--not to mention in an unprecedented semi-acoustic form--to Wilco's set. My immediate reaction to this song: a flashback to the Loose Fur shows eight years ago at St. Ann's Warehouse, one of the most significant gigs I've seen as a Wilco fan. Sentiment aside, this song continues to pack a wallop; you'll still hear that seemingly illogical combination of a bluesy guitar riff, a deceptively primitive beat, and a robotic drone, but now you have Nels adding his expertise and Mike stationed at the analog synth. Sure, both titles have popped up at Jeff's solo shows over the years, but let me assure you: You'll want to hear the six-man blitz.

That's not to say the band was slacking off during the electric portion of the show--and yes, that includes Nels' wholesale and uncharacteristic slip-up on "You Never Know." I partially chalk it up to technical problems, but I also cut him some slack for an unintentional flub. Heck, the band seemed to get more of a laugh out of it than anything else.

As for the rest of the electric set, the band mostly adhered to their live fundamentals, with a couple of major exceptions. As they'd been doing since the start of this tour, they paid tribute to Alex Chilton, but in Scranton, they debuted a cover of "In the Streets" to accompany "Thank You Friends."

Back in February, I loved hearing the band challenge itself with "Broken Arrow," but Big Star, with its characteristic jangly guitars, compelling hooks, and buttery harmonies, sits more squarely in my wheelhouse. One of Wilco's strengths is their ability to blend all these influences in their sound, but I got a huge jolt when an uncannily familiar riff from "In the Streets" brought to mind "Box Full of Letters." At times like that, it's tempting to think that maybe there is some method to this music madness.

See also:
» the park grows dark
» i play the ones from yesterday
» i've run out of metaphors
» are the roads you travel rough


zachamp said...

sounds like a great show! I saw Paul in Providence and am sorry I so narrowly missed you. I was also thrilled to hear the full-band Laminated Cat, I hadn't looked at any setlists for the tour except the first night so it was a great surprise. I'm going to Hartford also on Friday and am looking forward to maybe hearing some other songs, not sure how likely that'll be

Paul said...

wow, Zach makes an appearance! anyway, nice recap as always. this was such a fun little run through the MD-PA-NJ-NY corridor. i'm SO glad it all worked out!

p.s. just a small sticking point that will appeal to the copy editor in you but for "In The Street," it's just a singular street. :-)