Tuesday, February 28, 2012

if i can't change your mind

Last month, I managed to miss all of SF Sketchfest, due in large part to conflicting engagements. I would've felt doubly bummed if I let Noise Pop -- my other favorite local festival -- pass by. I almost did, actually, but a friend's diligence saved the day. The only U.S. date for Bob Mould's tour to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Copper Blue didn't hurt either.

Bob Mould, Bottom of the Hill, February 24, 2012: Last fall, I hit a milestone birthday (120, for those playing along at home), which may have made me more susceptible to these zero-year memories. For example, a few weeks earlier, a friend and I remarked that we first met 10 years ago in front of the El Rey, and that same number is approaching with a different group of pals. Similarly, Noise Pop hit its 20-year mark with this round of gigs, as does Copper Blue itself.

The truth is all these reunions and commemorations make me feel old -- er, older. Though I've enjoyed many of them immensely, I've mostly avoided them for the last few years. This is no slight on the music, the artists, or the audience. It's just a tic I've noticed in myself, but on occasion, that reflex can be turned off, such as when one of my musical heroes plays one of my favorite records of all time in its entirety.

Bob Mould, Bottom of the Hill, 02-24-12It's no exaggeration to say there was a good, long stretch when I listened to Copper Blue at least once a week or maybe even once a day. I still cue it up on a regular basis. It occupies an outsize portion of my gray matter, and I know exactly where certain musical cues occur (well, as much as a nonmusical person can know), how the edits come down, when the backing vocals slip in. I never tire of the instant segue from "A Good Idea" to "Changes" or the expert plunge into "Helpless." It might not be hyperbole to say Copper Blue was my Pet Sounds.

On a more analytical level, Copper Blue was the sound of Bob giving full rein to his pop instincts and carrying us along with him, as well as the perfect melding of his Husker Du lineage and his post-breakup introspection. Good day? Put on Copper Blue! Bad day? Put on Copper Blue! And turn it up while you're at it.

I'd been a fan for a while, but Copper Blue's commercial and critical success meant you could hear Sugar on the radio and see Bob and/or the band on TV. I wasn't a grunge fan, but I'm thankful the movement helped revive Bob's musical standing and reminded many of us why we listened in the first place. All this time on, it was particularly satisfying to see Bob take his place as the Foo Fighters' special guest on Conan last year.

But back to Bottom of the Hill: Bob was once again accompanied by Jason Narducy and Jon Wurster. I've commented on Jon Wurster's ubiquity before, but I'm now convinced Avogadro's number was devised to calculate the sheer total of bands and musicians Jon Wurster will play with over the course of his career. The guy is everywhere! Or at least everywhere worth showing up.

With these two touring veterans behind him, even if they weren't the original members of the band, Bob and crew had no problem tearing through this beloved record. I didn't see Sugar on the Copper Blue tour (commence tear-strewn flashbacks of college transport woes), but I caught subsequent outings, and the overwhelming verdict among friends: Man, they're loud! This point came into play at Bottom of the Hill; the fact that they were offering free earplugs to everyone upon entering should've been a giveaway.

If I had to dredge up a fake complaint about this show, it might be that the finer, more subtle notes from the record, such as the harmonies and acoustic touches, were drowned out by the pure rock attack taking place in front of our eyes. I don't think anyone minded, though. This was a night of celebration; if you wanted your introspective acoustic show, you were in the wrong place. Granted, "If I Can't Change Your Mind," Bob's famously would-be country anthem, lost its folksy lilt, but "The Slim" -- always devastating in any performance -- stood out even more dramatically amid the party.

I'm not sure if I've heard "Fortune Teller" or "Slick" in a live setting before. The former might be the one song from the record I never warmed to, but "Slick" featured a fantastic low-groove bass that put you right back in the spirit. Then, of course, the effervescent, swoon-inducing "Man on the Moon" closed out the record and the first part of the show. Bob said few words to us over the course of the 10 tracks, but he didn't need to. We all knew why we were gathered.

It wasn't quite over. When Bob and the band returned, he explained they'd spent the last month and a half working on a new record that was almost done, then played a couple of tunes off that forthcoming release. They both sounded great, but the second selection, noted as "Descent" on the setlist, was right up Bob's alley, an effortless, catchy mix of a strong melody and killer chords. I can't wait.

Bob remarked they'd close with a "party song," and I racked my mind trying to guess what part of his notoriously downbeat catalog could possibly qualify. "Favorite Thing"? A double-time version of "See a Little Light"? Nope! It was Cheap Trick's "Downed," with a strong showing by Jason on vocals. For the record, I didn't know that tidbit myself, as my Cheap Trick knowledge is several notches shy of inadequate, but a quick search on Twitter answered the question.

Reunions and anniversaries appear to be a mainstay of the touring circuit these days, and odds are I'll eventually hit more of them in the future. I reserve the right to be a hypocrite, especially if it means I can bask in the pleasures of a well-treasured record such as Copper Blue.

See also:
» listen, there's music in the air

Thursday, February 23, 2012

i wanna reach that glory land

Hardly Strictly in February? Not exactly, but the spirit was the same, even if we were gathered in memory of Warren Hellman, the benefactor who made it all possible. In case it wasn't immediately apparent, this was no funeral march, starting with the name of the festival itself. Instead, San Francisco hosted the Warren Hellman Public Celebration, with many of the artists who've saved the dates in October for several years over.

Warren Hellman Public Celebration, Great Highway, February 19, 2012: I apologize for all the times I've prattled endlessly about the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival and my nearly ringside seat to the festivities -- but you'd do it too if you had the chance. Thus, when Warren Hellman passed away last year, it was one of the few celebrity (?) deaths that affected me, simply because his generosity truly touched the city, the region, and beyond every year. Clearly, he led a fine, full life, and through his efforts, he gave each of us a taste of it.

Warren Hellman Public Celebration, 02-19-12

If you've been to Hardly Strictly, the logistics of this celebration looked somewhat familiar. The Banjo and Arrow Stages were set at opposite end of the closed-off segment of the Great Highway, with just enough distance in between that you could sort of hear the tunes if you were camped out on one side (as is my wont). To the west was Ocean Beach and the great Pacific, and from where I eventually rolled out my blanket, you could view the Cliff House and the edge of Marin. Overall, it was a gorgeous, nearly cloudless day, though we could've used a couple more ticks on the thermometer (obligatory Californian weather whine concluded).

I can't tell you what happened on the Arrow Stage because I settled in near the Banjo Stage soundboard for Gillian Welch's set and, predictably, didn't move, though it was a mellow enough day that people seemed to wander off without worry. The guy next to me came back with reports of Steve Earle's set, but I had to make do with glimpses of Steve taking in several acts at the Banjo Stage. It's a good thing his beard is so recognizable, even from a distance!

Warren Hellman Public Celebration, 02-19-12John Doe was the first musical voice ringing out from the Banjo Stage for the day, accompanied by Cindy Wasserman. I've seen John in several musical outfits over the years, including as a solo artist and with a full band. They didn't get a whole lot of time onstage, but I recall they did "The Golden State," as well as one X song that escapes my memory.

Dry Branch Fire Squad followed, with charming tales of meeting Alan Lomax, as well as a reference to T.S. Eliot -- a surprising choice for self-proclaimed rednecks. Buddy Miller was next in line, with the expected appearance from Emmylou Harris for a Porter Wagoner/Dolly Parton song. Finally, it was time for Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings, bedecked in coordinated bling, as they called it. I loved the sparkles, and I hope they break it out on less momentous occasions.

Warren Hellman Public Celebration, 02-19-12I can't say I've really enjoyed any Gillian/Dave set I've seen at Hardly Strictly -- not because of the performers, but due to the circumstances. Also, it's hard for any gig to compare, even at smaller spaces, after the Largo shows. I was thankful to be less than a football field away, to tell you the truth. Despite these caveats, by the end of their set, I basked in an overwhelming certainty: I love these two.

They opened with a banjo song, they said, in tribute to the clawhammer player Warren Hellman, and it turned out to be my oft-cited favorite track "Hard Times." If I recall correctly, they did three more songs from the new record, including "Six White Horses" accompanied by Gillian's clogging. The relatively short set couldn't encompass all the favorites, and I get the feeling they narrowed the selection with Warren in mind, so some of my potential picks were inevitably left out. Of course "Miss Ohio" was in the mix, and just as surely, Emmylou joined them for "Go to Sleep Little Baby." Less of a certainty, we got a couple of Revelator tunes. Heavenly!

They transported me -- and a large segment of the crowd, it appeared -- from their opening stance, but "I'll Fly Away" sealed the deal, for so many reasons. The song itself was perfectly suited to the festivities, and it allowed us to join in at the top of our lungs. I know sing-alongs aren't for everyone, but they almost always work for me, especially when you're among beloved performers. Dave entreated us to extend the choruses for a few more rounds. I probably could've sung the exact same words for another hour.

We stuck around for Old Crow Medicine Show, a band I've never seen as a whole, though I've caught a few of their personnel in other settings. The standout song was their cover of Whitney Houston's "I Wanna Dance With Somebody," and I'm pretty sure you can find clips of it on the Internet right now. I can't attempt to tell you why some musicians appeal to me, while their brethren, not far removed, don't ring the same bells. For whatever reason, Old Crow falls into the latter category, though approximately 15,000 at Ocean Beach that day would tell you the opposite.

And then we left, without catching Emmylou's set. I always say my seat for Emmylou at Hardly Strictly in 2007 can't be beat, so I won't bother trying to best it. Though part of me knew this memorial would be different, I ultimately couldn't stick around. I have all the faith in the world that she didn't disappoint the remaining concertgoers, and who knows? Maybe I'll give it another try in October.

See also:
» falling, yes i am falling
» so much going on in my head
» watch the waves and move the fader
» please take my advice
» feels lucky to have you here
» any old time
» built up with their bare hands

Friday, February 10, 2012

embracing the situation

In school, we were taught that if California were its own country, it would have something like the eighth largest GDP in the world, and man, I fully grasped my home state's size and influence with this round of rock tourism. Wilco played nine dates here alone, and that doesn't cover extra engagements, such as Conan and Largo. You could amortize that over the two years they regularly take to return to these shores, but that's still a lot of shows. With six of those gigs already under my belt, I probably didn't need to go to the Mondavi Center in Davis. Then again, what's one more?

Wilco, Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts, February 1, 2012: Technically, Davis isn't part of the Bay Area. Located about 90 minutes outside of San Francisco, it's closer to the Central Valley, maybe even the delta region. I've trekked to nearby Sacramento for a handful of shows, but those trips are rare. I have to give it up for the hearty souls who drive down I-80 to San Francisco and Oakland for their entertainment needs. I can't even take the 22 Fillmore across town sometimes!

Ordinarily, it'd take a lot more than the likes of the Mondavi Center -- one of those well-designed, acoustically calibrated auditoriums that have a way of sucking the fun out of the room -- to lure me to Davis, but it was hard to resist the combo of friends and vacation time. I apologize for the ill-informed detour to Bouchon, but I'm glad we got something for our troubles. Also on the bright side, as befits a building named after a major vinter, the pours were exceedingly generous at the Mondavi bar. Cin cin!

Though the early signs were discouraging, our sour grapes quickly transformed into delicious balsamic vinegar. My seat at the edge of stage right became an asset, as it meant I could stand up for the majority of the show without blocking anyone's view or hearing any complaints from the rows behind. I could see a handful of people trying to do the same in other areas, but it might've been hard to justify being on your feet for the first stretch of the show. No words were exchanged with the audience for a good six or seven songs, and I think it took a dumb "Freebird" request before Jeff veered from the script. I agree with the singer -- that concert cliche deserved a good dose of pepper spray.

Other awkward exchanges followed, including a short dialog with the couple in the front-center who stepped away in unison somewhere in the middle of the set. "Capitol City" resulted in a confusing exchange, when a small sampling of the audience started clapping during one of the instrumental bridges toward the end. First of all, their timing was off, but Jeff took it as tepid approval of the tune and, with mild sarcasm, refused the follow-up approval -- that is, the real applause. More endearing was the fellow in the front, called out for having the most pens in his pockets of any fan Jeff had ever seen. The two had a sweet moment when Ramon (the fan) gifted Jeff with one of his pens -- no words on its vintage, however. (Gel? Ballpoint? Color? Fine point? Extra fine? Your guess is as good as mine.)

Wilco, Mondavi Center, Feb. 1, 2012I can't recall exactly when the crowd collectively chose to get out of their chairs, but as we approached the encore, I could see the familiar signs of fans leaving their seats and crowding the aisles to get close to the stage. I made my move during the encore, climbing over the seat to take my more customary spot and snapping -- I swear! -- my only concert shot of the entire series of shows. All night, my ears had been filled with the sound mix from Nels's monitor; if I managed to blow what's left of my hearing by crowding around Nels's rig in Davis, I'd still chalk it up as a triumph of art.

I apologize to anyone who's read through these accounts and noticed the lack of commentary on the music, but (1) I don't sufficiently possess the technical vocabulary to do justice to the performances, and (2) it's hard picking out the finer details of seven consecutive shows the week after the fact. I love the pop tracks from The Whole Love, and the two new art pieces exceeded my expectations. They have to be experienced live, where their discrete levels and dimensions become apparent. I'm especially in awe of "Art of Almost," and I still can't believe the disparate elements somehow work as a whole.

As for the older songs -- dare I say classics -- they're not exactly the same these days. I noticed the likes of "Handshake Drugs" and "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart" have been edited somewhat, maybe to make way for the new sprawlers and surely to accommodate as many selections as possible from the band's double-digit discography.

Early in the travels, I composed whole dissertations in my head about the peaks and valleys, soft contours and hard turns, brute force and subtle whispers that can comprise a single Wilco tune, much less the entire arc of a show. But no one needs to put up with that hot air. The point is I've missed this band and the adventures, discoveries, and camaraderie that go along with these excursions. At this point, I can't predict if a trek of this breadth awaits me in the future, but I can always look at this stretch as a reminder of how much I had and how much fun may still be in store.

See also:
» tired of being exposed to the cold
» one sunday morning
» my mother's sister's husband's brother
» can't stand it
» thank you for nothing at all
» so flattered by fate

Thursday, February 09, 2012

tired of being exposed to the cold

With two of three shows out of the way, Wilco's gigs in the Bay Area had already surpassed the dates in Los Angeles. Would the Fox Theatre in Oakland complete this Northern California hat trick? Find out below!

Wilco, Fox Theatre, Jan. 31, 2012Wilco, the Fox Theatre, January 31, 2012: Several years ago, I overheard a conversation between a guy and his concert companion as the former pointed out an older man. The object of his attention, he informed her: Frank Riley. All of a sudden, several dots connected in my mind -- that was the man responsible for booking many of my favorite acts! Now I can't stop spotting him at shows, both near and far, and I've nursed a daydream of slipping him a note reading, "Wilco. Three nights. Fox Theatre." Fortunately, he saved himself from my folly with this gig, as well as the pair that preceded it.

Ever since the Wiltern debacle, we'd been joking about surprise admission fees, but the Bay Area venues proved refreshingly equitable and respectful, with the Fox Theatre perhaps taking top honors. The fellow who welcomed us at an ungodly hour directed us to the right spot, without a hint of judgment, and the other workers who trickled in throughout the day were just as open and helpful. Even better, though the Fox's attached bar was slinging drinks before the doors opened, there was no horseplay or favoritism. We nitwits marched in first and on schedule. Props to Another Planet! And that's not even mentioning the proximity to Bakesale Betty, Xolo, Rudy's Can't Fail Cafe, and the Sears bathrooms. If only they could've added a few degrees to the thermometer?

Once the crowds settled in, it became apparent to me that I'd make an awful booking agent. Wilco could probably sell out two nights at the Fox, especially for a weekend engagement, but they'd push their luck with three nights. Mr. Riley, the floor remains yours.

In all other respects, the Fox provided a wonderful bookend to the weekend-plus, with a setlist encompassing such beauties as "Spiders" and "One Wing," as well as titles that hadn't been aired up north, such as "Muzzle of Bees," "Theologians," and "Wilco (The Song)." As a fan of obvious plays for the audience, I ate it up when Jeff changed the lyrics to "Kingpin" to "Living in/Oakland," and I loved that the crowd knew when to roar along without prodding from the band. In fact, the whole dumb rock song encore was a great way to go out.

The general consensus among our circle placed this show as the best of the local gigs, owing to the grand surroundings, the audience adulation, and the band's spark. My bias may show, but I'm sticking with San Jose as my favorite of the trifecta. However, it's the contrast between the three, even the oddly somber San Francisco date, that keeps me coming back. In the end, Oakland gets a bonus point, if only for Jeff's comment that they miss the Bay Area when they're gone. The feeling is mutual, in case he can't tell.

See also:
» thank you for nothing at all
» my mother's sister's husband's brother
» one sunday morning

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

one sunday morning

Now we're talking -- this is a place I know well, where I've fostered lots of great memories, and am bracingly familiar with all the rules about lining up and getting in. If you don't mind the (euphemism alert!) colorful foot traffic around 6th and Market, the Warfield is a prime spot to catch a show, and it's about time Wilco played once more within San Francisco city limits.

Wilco, the Warfield, January 29, 2012: How has it been 10 years since Wilco last played the Warfield?! A lot has changed since then -- er, in the world at large, I suppose, but you don't come here for socio-political analysis, so let's bring it back to a narrower focus. Not only has the band undergone well-documented shifts among its personnel in that time, but I've experienced something similar in my own insignificant way. Where I once had to drag kind, generous, well-intentioned but ultimately indifferent friends to the shows, I can now look forward to joining a roster of self-selecting nutjobs braced for this choice slab of Mid-Market. The dream is real!

Wilco, the Warfield, Jan. 29, 2012

Then again, maybe the differences aren't so dramatic. For one thing, the fully functioning smoke machines brought me right back to the hazy photos I took with my film camera back in 2002; it's probably a good thing the band now enforces a no-camera policy. Also, I thought the "Sunken Treasure" opener sounded familiar. I brushed it off as a blurred memory from more recent gigs at the Greek Theatre, but the Internet has confirmed my suspicions -- according to Wilcobase, the band had kicked off with the same title back in 2002.

After the lively show in San Jose, I was surprised by Wilco's moodier presentation for San Francisco. We were remarking on it among ourselves when Jeff spoke up and admitted to a "morbid" set. Not that he disavowed it, nor did we expect the band to suddenly turn into a pop machine -- they wouldn't be Wilco and we wouldn't be fans if it was all sunshine and light. Still, it wasn't what I expected of the group's return to one of its most faithful and long-standing fan bases outside of Chicago.

Despite this slightly downtrodden setlist, the band managed to pull out a bunch of tunes I wanted to hear, including "Either Way," which is one of my favorite titles from the current lineup. Once more, the audience chimed in beautifully; trust me, when you live in San Francisco, it's not unusual to tell yourself maybe the sun will shine today and the clouds will roll away. I always hope "Either Way" will enjoy a more regular spot in the rotation and not become a forgotten track -- I'll take this as a good sign.

From a purely selfish standpoint, "Misunderstood" came a day late, but I liked that they threw in a couple of A.M. tracks for the longtime fans surely among the throngs. Additionally, the "Laminated Cat"/"Impossible Germany" combo could be a masterclass in fantastic guitar licks.

The rocking tracks came out later in the show, but once again, "The Lonely 1" iced the evening. It was a lovely touch at the Palladium, but it better matched the mood of this often gray and foggy town.

See also:
» my mother's sister's husband's brother
» so flattered by fate

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

my mother's sister's husband's brother

After an up-and-down week in Los Angeles, it was time to come home for the second half of Wilco in California, starting out with my roots and the San Jose Civic Center.

Wilco, San Jose Civic Center, Jan. 28, 2012Wilco, San Jose Civic Center, January 28, 2012: I'm a Bay Area girl at heart, and my life experiences were primarily shaped by my time in three cities, San Jose chief among them. It's where I grew up, met some of the most influential people in my life, and indulged in my first ridiculous inclinations as an overzealous music fan. (Ask me how many buses we took to get to Tower on Bascom!) My family still lives there, along with good friends. I grow defensive about its reputation as a bland suburb -- never mind I plotted my escape from the age of 12 or so -- but San Jose also offered a steady stream of record shops, college radio, and arthouse cinema when I was growing up. Now, for the second time in eight years, Wilco was in town for a gig.

Back in 2004, Wilco played the San Jose Center for Performing Arts, a site I know well, thanks to all the Vietnamese cultural events I watched there. It wasn't necessarily one of the band's best shows, but it was a memorable night for me. After all, Wilco in San Jose?! Shut up! But I also got to hear "Misunderstood," very much in my old neighborhood, and my friends came over for my mom's amazing -- if I do say so myself -- pho.

As for the Civic Center, I had my doubts about this show. For one, I was completely unfamiliar with the venue, other than the fact that my cousin's high school graduation took place there. Also, though Wilco's San Francisco and Oakland shows sold out almost immediately, tickets remained available for this gig for several weeks. Finally, it'd been a long time since I've seen a concert in San Jose proper (not to be confused with Saratoga, despite Jeff's comments about wine-related tweets); I had no idea how the crowd would welcome them.

As it happened, my concerns were for naught. The fans roared from the outset and didn't let up for the whole gig, the band was incredibly in sync with one another, and they maintained a good tempo with the setlist. I didn't get "Misunderstood," but then again, I put in one vote about a month ago. The top ballot choice turned out to be "(Was I) In Your Dreams" -- no offense to the song itself, but it's not an obvious choice, even among die-hard fans. I loved "Art of Almost," even more than the already impressive versions I heard earlier in the week. In San Jose, thanks to the expert placement of a speakers for the audience, I felt the electronic drum beats coming from Glenn's kit. I only wish I had a kidney stone or two that needed dislodging! Jeff's shout-out to Jane Smiley's boyfriend -- in attendance that evening -- was a sweet touch too.

Here's the key to understanding this gig: San Jose is in many ways a tertiary market. Though it's the third-largest city in California and gets plenty of huge shows at the HP Pavilion, midlevel bands like Wilco don't come along often. And if you live in Santa Cruz, Monterey, Gilroy, and further points south, a gig in San Jose is a treat compared to the trek to San Francisco or Oakland. I don't expect many artists to add San Jose to their itineraries, but I always hold out hope that my overlooked town will get more attention.

After an anticlimactic end to the L.A. shows, it was great to kick off the Bay Area mini-residency with a fantastic gig. There really is no place like home.

See also:
» when nobody gives a fuck
» can't stand it

Monday, February 06, 2012

can't stand it

There was some question on whether to attend this show or another engagement on the other side of town, but not so much for me. It'd been too long for my tastes since I'd seen this band (er, the previous two shows notwithstanding), so off to the Los Angeles Theatre it was for Wilco's last night in the Southland.

Wilco, Los Angeles Theatre, Jan. 27, 2012Wilco, Los Angeles Theatre, January 27, 2012: Finding information on the Los Angeles Theatre was far more difficult than you could imagine. Try Googling "LA theatre" and you'll find a bunch of links to the general theater scene in Los Angeles, but almost nothing on the classic movie house downtown. In fact, the guy at the Garlin/Tweedy conversation at Largo on Monday night who claimed that his great-grandfather designed the theater probably offered more information on the locale than anything you could find in a Web search. It's kind of a shame because the Los Angeles Theatre is worth knowing, with an incredible history and a breathtaking design. We heard from several people that we should check out the bathrooms, and I can assure you they deserve a look.

As for the show itself, well, you might know my bias toward seated versus general admission gigs, but they have their time and place. Truth be told, I didn't particularly feel like standing up for much of the first half of the show, despite the urging of various audience members. Maybe it was the choice of more mellow album tracks such as "Black Moon," "Open Mind," and even the magnificent acoustic full-band version of "Spiders," but I was perfectly happy to warm my seat for a while. It took "Can't Stand It" -- and a small admonition from Jeff -- before the room united in the decision to stay on our feet for the rest of the gig.

On the other hand, it was the first time I was able to take in the band's more multimedia presentation, including the full context of projections and other aspects of their light show. And it sounded great from my vantage.

Jeff referred to the Grammys and the band's upcoming appearance at the show, but if anyone's votes are still out, the band may have a lost a few points on a couple of details: (1) Jeff's flubbing of the lyrics on "Radio Cure," and (2) his admission that the version of "Red-Eyed and Blue" on Monday night was a fiasco. If any song can take on a little roughness around the edges, "Red-Eyed" is it. Besides, it's not like I'm about to refuse the chance to hear a welcome rocker on any day.

Next up: Back home!

See also:
» so flattered by fate

Sunday, February 05, 2012

thank you for nothing at all

On to night two of Wilco in Los Angeles, aka the Great Middling Low-Grade Rock 'n' Roll Swindle. I don't look forward to writing this account, but it has to be done.

Wilco, the Wiltern, January 25, 2012: I've seen great shows at the Wiltern, dating back to 2004 and more recently in 2009, and I've raved about the venue to anyone who'll listen. It reminds me of a nicer version of the Warfield in San Francisco, and only the Fox in Oakland rivals the beautiful restoration job inside the Wiltern. I especially appreciate the fact that they limit the number of bodies allowed inside the pit.

Wilco, the Wiltern, Jan. 25, 2012

Alas, those memories are shot to hell, thanks to one of the greedier moves I've seen at a venue. I shouldn't be surprised that LiveNation would find a new way to screw music fans out of more money, but the so-called VIP Upgrade -- i.e., pay $20 for early access to the venue, ahead of everyone who waited in line ahead of you or, in our case, in front of us -- was pretty much legal extortion. I had no interest in paying, for a variety of reasons, but more than a dozen ponied up the fee. You broke my heart, Wiltern, and I'm afraid I may never see a show on the premises ever again.


I couldn't shake that bad taste in my mouth, but I have to admit it wasn't a horrible show. For starters, the sound was great, so it's probably a good thing we went to the Palladium first. That way, I couldn't compare the acoustics the other way around. The art-piece opening made a strong impression, and it was my first chance to hear the epic "One Sunday Morning." Wilco also rolled out a couple more Whole Love tracks that didn't make the cut at the Palladium, so the album representation was almost complete.

The rarer tracks can make or break a show, and at the Wiltern, they helped salvage a night that might've otherwise been doomed (through no fault of the band, I should add). Top of that list was "Laminated Cat," which can't be played enough, as far as I'm concerned. To the young guy at the front and to my left who tried to call out several songs to his parents standing a few spaces over to my right: Have you considered texting? You may also want to hit the MP3 stack. Despite your initial claim, the band didn't play "At Least That's What You Said," nor was the unmistakable opening riff of the Loose Fur tune turn out to be a B-side, as you first guessed. Otherwise, bless your heart!

Next time I think of the Wiltern, I'll try to concentrate on the good memories of years past, including a "Spiders" solo by a surprise guest, a goofy pic that still adorns my fridge, a lovely chat with my favorite club owner/fanboy, and great celeb sightings. It was nice knowing you, the Wiltern.

See also:
» it's become so obvious
» so flattered by fate

Saturday, February 04, 2012

so flattered by fate

Welcome to the last year of humanity! I commend the ancient Mayans on their timing -- how they knew that I could squeeze in at least one more round of Wilco shows in California before the end times on earth, I can't guess, but I'm thankful the schedules worked out.

Wilco, the Hollywood Palladium, Jan. 24, 2012Wilco, the Hollywood Palladium, January 24, 2012: You may or may not have noticed my lethargy for much of the last part of 2011? This is the reason why: I had to make sure I could see a bunch of Wilco's California shows. For the record, these were my first Wilco gigs since the Solid Sound Festival last summer and the first true run of rock tourism in nearly two years. Trust me, it wasn't exactly by choice, so I was especially glad to get back on that horse.

But before I get to the Palladium show itself, I need to mention the fantastic roster of events on Monday, wherein we saw Wilco at Conan, and we even got a bonus song. From there, it was off to the Happiest Place on Earth (tm) to catch the Jeff Garlin/Jeff Tweedy conversation at Largo at the Coronet, not to mention being greeted by familiar faces on La Cienega and in the theater itself. Jeff (Tweedy) didn't play any songs, and perhaps the rambling 2-plus-hour chat wasn't for everyone. I thought it was a great night, but anyone who knows me could've guessed at my verdict. Hello! Largo! Jeff (Tweedy)! They kinda dominate this blog? Only one other name pops up more often among these writings, and if that guy had decided to show up that night, the Mayan prophecy would've really come true for me.

We joked that it'd be all downhill for the rest of the week, and we were right to some extent, but at least through Tuesday, life was still very good, as we caught the first of Wilco's trio of shows in Los Angeles. I'd heard lots of horrible comments about the Palladium, particularly the sound quality. I kind of wish someone had told me more about the Palladium's storied past featuring the likes of Artie Shaw -- the room itself was lovely. Perhaps my expectations were low, but from where we were standing, Wilco came through nicely, thanks to their expert sound man. (Read more about him on Wilcoworld!) Poor White Denim, as the opener, suffered from the acoustics; I couldn't discern a single lyrical line.

That guy who looms large on this blog is known for operating without a setlist, and it works for him. Wilco is closer to the other end of the spectrum -- the setlist is no accident, though the band is known to veer from it, depending on the night's schedule, vibe, whatever. Also, considering the group's sizable discography, you know decisions have to be made on what does and doesn't get highlighted each evening. Thus, it's tempting to read between the lines and try to imagine what the band is trying to get across in the choice of songs. In at least the first couple of shows in Los Angeles, I seemed to detect a theme in the handful of opening tracks.

Granted, I hadn't seen The Whole Love titles performed live, and you could probably cough up a theory for any trio of tunes. Still, it seemed that the band decided to greet Los Angeles with a bunch of aggro guitar songs at the Hollywood Palladium, and it felt great. I dig the new songs, especially the main cluster featured every night, and I look forward to hearing which chestnuts get the nod.

But in terms of song selection, I'll remember this show for the emphasis on Being There, still my favorite Wilco album. I love that "Red-Eyed and Blue" and "I Got You" has moved to the middle of the set, though they're also welcome in the encore. The closing "The Lonely 1" brought to mind the show at the Santa Barbara Bowl about five years (!) ago, where they ended on the same note. I can see how the transition to the song after the uptempo first encore could be jarring, but I love the contrast between the segments, and I welcome the reminder of the band's scope and abilities.

Those of us who attended the night of two Jeffs surely picked up on the callbacks to the Largo appearance, most notably a reference to Sammy Hagar, whose presence carried further, as Jeff directed the crowd through a few rounds of competitive cheering. With most other bands, this could've easily turned into a longer, more cliched exercise, but Jeff stopped the call and response before we got carried away.

See also:
» you can tell that i'm not lying
» try to downplay being uptight
» i wasn't that night