I've never been to Hawaii, though I live in the state that probably has the most direct line to the island paradise. Well, guess what finally got me there? If you said a Jeff Tweedy and/or Wilco show, then you have been paying attention (and, understandably, silently judging). Give yourself a gold star!
Jeff Tweedy, Hawaii Theatre, August 4, 2011: I have no problem admitting that my main impressions of Hawaii were formed by the Brady Bunch episodes where they grappled with Vincent Price and a cursed tiki idol. (Bonus: Don Ho shows up!) In an eerie coincidence, our group sustained a handful of injuries, including a surfing accident, just like Greg Brady. However, also like America's favorite family, a few members of my tour group had dinner with -- in a manner of speaking -- the would-be abductor. It's a clear case of life imitating art, right?
In my mind, this trip was the companion piece to Wilco's Alaska sojourn from a few years ago for obvious reasons: late statehood, distance from the lower 48, and general exotics. You could draw a parallel in at least one other regard, as well; the crowd was incredibly enthusiastic. In fact, the fellow sitting three seats down from me appeared to be jumping out of his skin and felt compelled to relay his giddiness to me. As soon as Jeff took the stage, the guy pumped up his cred with a request for "New Madrid" (which was played, complete with one tiny lyrical slip-up).
This zeal showed in other ways, most audibly in the relentless clapping from all over the room. Unfortunately, the crowd's efforts mostly crashed and burned, either proving unsustainable or simply veering off-tempo, and not even Jeff's direct requests could stop them. Eventually, Jeff's words sunk in, though one lone holdout to our left couldn't hold himself back.
At this point, I probably sound like a Grumpy Gus, but that's not my intention at all. I actually enjoyed the outbursts, awkwardness, and banter. The struggle between Jeff and the audience never became distracting, and clearly, the crowd just wanted to show their appreciation for such a rare gig. We even enjoyed a lot of accidental comedy, including a perfectly timed clang of a smartphone just before Jeff sang "I'm assuming you got my message on your machine" from "Muzzle of Bees." In fact, the singer giggled through several points of the show, and I'm pretty sure this is the first time I've seen Jeff kiss a picture of himself (on the cover of the local free weekly) onstage.
If you've seen enough Wilco shows, you may know that they often play a rudimentary setlist when they first come to a new town. We expected the same of Jeff and his Hawaiian debut, but give him credit -- he broke out a number of songs that the average fan wouldn't recognize, such as "Not for the Season" and "So Much Wine." The respectful silence that accompanied these tracks spoke volumes, especially compared to the whoops and cries that welcomed the likes of "Via Chicago" and "Hummingbird." And in a directed nod to the state itself, Jeff prefaced "Someday Some Morning Sometime" with the statement that it always reminded him of Hawaii.
I'm not sure if the crowd at the Hawaii Theatre realized the unique formation that played for us when Pat Sansone (who opened the show with a solo set composed of Autumn Defense songs and covers) joined Jeff for the encore. Pat donned an acoustic guitar and supplied harmonies to a handful of tracks, including a couple of titles from the forthcoming Wilco album. I can't tell you how many times I'll be hearing these songs when the band is back on the road to promote the new record, but I'm pretty sure I won't get to take in the same treatment again.
I have to cite one more wholly singular memory of this show: the several leis draped across the monitor for the artists. Jeff remarked on their fragrance, and he wasn't kidding -- I caught a whiff of them toward the evening, and they were still going strong. Jeff at first resisted the accessories, but in the end, he finally relented, sharing them with Pat.
I feel compelled to report that we squeezed in plenty of other activities, including a trip to the North Shore, a fantastic gourmet dinner, and lots of shaved ice. Next time, we're doing Diamond Head!
» choo choo charlie had a plenty good band