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, 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.
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