Tuesday, October 09, 2012

my starter won't start

Oh Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, I just can't quit you! At least not while I live in the Richmond District and you manage to book at least a few bands I want to see. Warren Hellman's legacy -- and our collective gratitude for his undertaking -- remains alive and thriving after his death. How lucky are we to enjoy his largesse year after year?

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, October 5 to 7, 2012: Much like in 2010, the Bay Area had something for everyone this weekend. A sampling of activities include Fleet Week, America's Cup races, the Giants games, a 49ers game, and mega concerts in Oakland. Whew! This may have helped keep the numbers down at Hardly Strictly; I noticed less of a crunch than in previous years. Alternately, maybe no one wants to see the same performers as me.

As for those artists, few jumped out at me as in years before, but there's something for nearly everyone, and I was able to whittle down my list to a number of essential performers. Top of the list was Justin Townes Earle; I love his latest record, and I couldn't possibly pass up this opportunity.

After a late, lazy morning (sorry Sara Watkins), I ambled down to the Towers of Gold Stage in the early afternoon. You gotta love the western border of Hardly Strictly around that hour. With no trouble at all, I was able to make my way close to the front for a great view. Unfortunately, I forgot my camera that day, so you'll have to take my word on my primo placement.

As Justin took the stage, it occurred to me that he bears a resemblance to Rufus Wainwright. They're both tall and lanky, with a bohemian air. They've prevailed over checkered histories, and of course, there's the whole music progeny thing. Maybe it's a country mouse/city mouse thing? Maybe I should save these thoughts for my anonymous Tumblr?
From easily fooled

Justin was accompanied by the same band that joined him at the Great American Music Hall earlier this year, and their chops came through as before. Back then, I didn't realize how big an asset Paul Niehaus was on guitar, though I could hear it in his contributions. Vince Ilagan and John Radford resumed their duties on stand-up bass and drums, respectively.

Obviously, festival sets are shorter than stand-alone gigs, but I think Justin got almost an hour of stage time, though he was slated for 50 minutes. Otherwise, he stuck with a similar format of frequent banter, a short solo set, and the full band treatment. If my memory is correct, we got similar but paraphrased versions of the stories behind "Maria" and "Nothing's Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now." Hell, if I had gone through the same breakup and/or written as a great a song, I'd work that angle until they cut off my mic. They don't call that show "Storytellers" for nothing.

It's hard to imagine Justin at a loss for words when it comes to his songs, and we may have seen the best example of this during a potentially awkward moment. Though he easily shared stories about ex-girlfriends, he also introduced some uncertainty to the narratives, reminding us the subject was often a composite character. He couldn't do the same with "Am I That Lonely Tonight," which opens with the line, "I hear my father on the radio" -- especially with the man in question watching from the side of the stage. Apart from a subtle reference to the circumstances at the beginning of the song, Justin said no more on the topic. Then again, everything you need to know is in the lyrics.

With his extra (?) time, Justin was able to squeeze in the Replacements' "Can't Hardly Wait." That's a festival song if I've ever heard one.

My only real encounter with impenetrable mobs this weekend followed Justin's set, when I nursed the idea of checking out the Lumineers at the Rooster Stage. Denied! The path to the Rooster Stage from JFK Drive was truly a frothing sea of humanity. I should've known -- the always fortress-like stage plus the bustling food stands plus the runoff from the even larger Banjo Stage plus a band with an actual radio hit meant I didn't have a prayer in the world of seeing a centimeter of the stage. After failing to make any forward progress for a few minutes, I moved on.

Which brought me to the Porch Stage on the eastern side of the festival, well in advance of Robyn Hitchock's set. I've never actually seen the Porch Stage before, though it's the closest to my apartment. Little did I know how accessible and mellow it was! Even more so than Towers of Gold!

I accidentally continued my Earle family stalking with Allison Moorer's performance, where she was joined by husband Steve Earle for a couple of tracks. Justin could be seen wandering around too. Go figure!

But I was really there for Robyn Hitchcock, who didn't disappoint in a pink and purple shirt, as well as his trademark mop of white hair. Robyn's non sequiturs could easily power a fake or real Twitter account from here until our cosmic overlords reclaim this poor planet, so I won't try to cover them here -- except to note that he opened with a fantastic and affectionate comment about San Francisco "celebrating the 52nd year of the 1960s." To his credit, Robyn didn't seem to mind the Blue Angels flying overhead, dismissing them with a remark about (paraphrased) the impermanence of everything, so we should just enjoy what we have.

Robyn Hitchock and John Paul Jones, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, 10-06-12I think Robyn did a couple of tracks by himself before he brought up his special guest. I'm not even sure Robyn formally introduced him, but he was hardly a stranger to the crowd -- or to me, despite the well-meaning hippie's inquiries as to whether I recognized him. (He had also asked me between sets if I was familiar with Nick Drake, bless his heart.) The mystery man: John Paul Jones, frequent Largo guest, though I didn't bother explaining that to the new acquaintance. Oh right, he's kind of known for that other band too. My guess is that John Paul Jones took part in Sara Watkins' set -- which, as mentioned above, I had missed.

This may be the first time I've seen Robyn and John Paul Jones (does anyone refer to him with less than three names?) play together in any form, but I'm too lazy to look over my old posts to make sure. Needless to say, I fully realized the magnitude of this collaboration, as I have with every other John Paul Jones appearance I've witnessed.

John Paul Jones remained with Robyn for the rest of his set, taking on a bunch of Robyn's classics. I never in my life would've guessed I'd hear "Balloon Man" with a mandolin solo, but they carried it off beautifully. They also went in on "Tangled Up in Blue," Robyn's wife's favorite Dylan song.

The best moment of their set may have been "Saturday Groovers." To start, Robyn prefaced the tune with a tale of living next door to John Paul Jones, where they shared a single lightbulb; while one had illumination, the other was bathed in rain. This led to an explanation of the real-life groovers and their place in British cultural history -- hey, it sounded legit enough to me. The song itself was upbeat and fun, but the most endearing touch may have been John Paul Jones' impromptu harmonies at the end. They totally need to take this act on the road.

On Sunday, Son Volt kicked off the show. This might be the first time I've officially seen Son Volt live, though I've caught a couple of Jay Farrar appearances. Once again, it was a breeze to get to the front of the stage, where a steady sampling of Farrar faithful held court, including one fellow who air-drummed along to every track.

Son Volt, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, 10-07-12

The first half of Son Volt's set was, in a word, problematic. Technical difficulties silenced the lead guitar for a couple of songs, and overall, the pacing was slow. The set picked up, both in terms of pace and spirit, with a block of Trace tunes right around the middle. Not only were the fans singing and jumping around, the energy carried over into the remainder of their segment. I think Son Volt closed out with at least one song from Jay Farrar's Jack Kerouac project with Ben Gibbard. Sorry, finer details escape me.

I can say one more thing about Son Volt: If you're a fan of Jay's voice, you'll be pleased to hear that familiar lilt going strong. It's still a fantastic instrument all on its own.

The Rooster Stage was slightly more open for Nick Lowe, but I went to my usual perch on the side of the hill. Perhaps some day my feet will touch the ground of that natural amphitheater -- one can dream. Not that the hillside is virgin land either; the gathered fans looked not unlike a post-apocalyptic enclave of survivors, though maybe the Whole Foods bags and wine bottles gave it away.

Nick was his usual cool, regal self, playing a mix of old and new, but always at his own pace. His playlist included "Battlefield," once covered by Diana Ross, though he downplayed its prominence in her career. "House for Sale" was welcomed warmly also, and he landed on a couple of classics: "Cruel to Be Kind" and (by request) "I Knew the Bride (When She Used to Rock and Roll)." The man may be the epitome of timelessness.

With that, my Hardly Strictly Bluegrass experience drew to a close for 2012. There's no use in playing coy anymore -- see you next year.

See also:
» i wanna reach that glory land
» watch the waves and move the fader
» we both pretend we don't know why
» don't get around much anymore
» between two worlds

Monday, October 08, 2012

catch the moon like a bird in a cage

Seven Wilco shows became six shows, then settled into five, but the Hollywood Bowl was never in question. Though it wasn't the first time the band had played this hallowed site (that distinction would go to their opening slot for REM in 2003), it was their first headlining opportunity at the Bowl and their penultimate U.S. date for this year. Despite my usual doubts, it was a privilege to catch them at this iconic site.

Wilco, Hollywood Bowl, September 30, 2012: Back when we first grabbed tickets for this string of shows, I made some predictions on which would be good and which wouldn't. I think I hit about .500.

Wilco, Hollywood Bowl, 09-30-12Berkeley and Reno turned out to be awesome, contrary to my conjectures. I couldn't make Redding, but according to reports, it was a wash -- the opposite of my initial call. I was right in opting out of the Palm Desert date, and San Luis Obispo was every bit as fun as I knew it would be. As for the Hollywood Bowl, well, in the words of Cerie from 30 Rock: That's exactly how you look.

The upside first: We had very good seats in the pool circle, and the people around us weren't as awful as I thought they might be -- except for the couple behind us who argued until maybe "Art of Almost." But from the outset, the crowd was on their feet, and I saw plenty of fans around me who knew the words to the songs, their enthusiasm and appreciation shining through. Of course, it's Los Angeles, so a portion of the population will always be too cool for school, including the attendees who wandered in well into the set. In their defense, Carmageddon was under way, and hell, we made it to our seats about 5 minutes before showtime.

Anyway, the attention was mostly directed at the stage. Believe it or not, that's an achievement in this town, and I've seen much worse at shows, earlier Wilco dates included.

The setlist was surprising, which is both good and bad. Having already played three shows in the Los Angeles area earlier this year, perhaps the band felt some freedom in putting together the song order. We didn't get the typical Sunday-themed run of songs, but then again, they kind of did that back in January at the Wiltern, not to mention just the day before in San Luis Obispo.

On paper, the set looks pretty good, with an AM track, the "Sunken Treasure"/"Misunderstood" double-header, and two tunes I hadn't heard yet on this run ("War on War" and "Ashes of American Flags"). I won't ever complain about the recurrence of the acoustic "Spiders" either.

But in the end, it all came across as somewhat perfunctory. I feel like a jerk for saying it because a number of people who see Wilco a lot less often than I do told me they loved the show, and it was a good representation of the band's catalog and range. Also, I'm biased against most seated venues, so my final take is suspect.

However, it didn't feel like there was much of a connection between the band and the audience, as seen at the best shows on this run. To his credit, Jeff tried, with allusions to the Sing-Along Sound of Music held at the Bowl just the week before, as well as suggestions to the audience to join in with vocals if they could on the likes of "Jesus etc." and "California Stars." The resulting harmonies were weak, to the point where Paul and I kicked in with "Hummingbird," and both the couple in front of us and the guy to Paul's right craned their necks to check us out -- not necessarily in a bitchy way, but shouldn't they have been singing too?! Then again, it wasn't the first time "our voices lift so easily" to unexpected attention.

Wilco, Hollywood Bowl, 09-30-12I try not to feel entitled (and hope I don't come across that way), but by the encore, not only did I know what was coming, I felt like we deserved it. I'm talking about "Outtasite," of course. "Hoodoo Voodoo" is fun and all, especially with shirtless techie Josh on cowbell, but those Being There rockers send it all the way to 11 and get me jumping up and down, even when I'm wearing wedge heels.

I'll say this much about Wilco at the Hollywood Bowl: They sure know how to close. It's a good thing my last memory of them for a little while will be one of sheer joy and celebration.

See also:
» thank you for nothing at all
» the sun rises and sets
» september gurls
» if i had a mountain
» the lovely way the sunshine bends

Sunday, October 07, 2012

the sun rises and sets

It was another early morning proceeding a long drive following a late night (for all three of us, albeit separately), this time from Los Angeles to California's central coast. The occasion: Wilco's show at the Avila Beach Resort in San Luis Obispo. The outcome: A relaxed, rocking gig set against the beach.

Wilco, Avila Beach Resort, September 29, 2012: I love that Wilco plays unusual spots around California and elsewhere, major mileage aside, but there's always the question of what awaits us at the end of the interstate. It turned out my brother and his wife really like Avila Beach, and the resort Website depicted an inviting setup on the water. It could be paradise, if seaside getaways are your thing.

Wilco, Avila Beach Resort, 09-29-12The reality wasn't quite as idyllic, but it wasn't bad either. In fact, it may eventually turn out to be one of my favorite Wilco gigs. For starters, we were told that we had to wait for the golf match to conclude before we could park our car. Then we had to actually wait on the green before gates opened. Finally, we crossed a bridge and traversed the length of a football field (or so) before we reached the stage. Though breezy and sunny, the climate wasn't exactly as lovely as depicted in the photos either, but I, hailing from the land of Arctic-condition summer festivals, really shouldn't talk. It all added up to a show that felt like an incredibly relaxed festival -- not unlike the last day of last year's Solid Sound.

Here's a perfect encapsulation of the show's vibe: Nels had equipment trouble on the opening tracks. Apparently, his pedals and gizmos didn't react well to the sun and heat. I caught one exchange between Nels and his tech in which Nels called something "bullshit" (the extent of my lip-reading abilities). The tech swapped out Nels' head (commence Liz Lemon eye-roll sequence), and all was fixed. Several audience members requested a do-over, so Jeff had Nels recap his solos from an especially guitar-heavy roster. Nels delivered with his trademark exquisite touch, and Jeff followed with the one solo he knew, according to his claims -- a lovely, jarring jumble of notes.

Wilco, Avila Beach Resort, 09-29-12

In the Reno write-up, I mentioned Wilco's outline for shows in new towns, but the band broke out of the mold for its San Luis Obispo premiere. Maybe it had to do with the connection between Jeff's kind of hometown of St. Louis and San Luis Obispo. In any case, we got the artsy opener ("One Sunday Morning," "Art of Almost"); the acoustic "Spiders"; a number of AM tracks; the always welcome inclusion of Summerteeth songs, including the formerly reviled "Can't Stand It"; and the Being There closer. Where did they think they were -- Berkeley!?

As if the show weren't already amusing enough, a narrative emerged: a battle with the elements. Under any other circumstances, we'd dream of seeing a show under such postcard-perfect circumstances, but three hours in the sun proved to be a challenge (see aforementioned technical issues). I think it may have been harder on Wilco, as the rays seemed to zero in on the band right in the middle of their set. Needless to say, Jeff didn't remove his jean jacket, though he commented on the brightness on several occasions.

Wilco, Avila Beach Resort, 09-29-12The balmy conditions brought out at least one revelation -- how often Jeff references the sun in his lyrics. We're not talking a Neil Finn knees-and-kitchens situation, but it's close. Jeff took notice of it himself, and despite the band's physical discomfort, they still didn't play "Sunloathe," which would've been perfect for the day. But in an instance of good timing, "Dawned on Me" was the song playing when the sun finally ducked below the horizon.

Sun, surf, and songs alone already made this a unique Wilco gig, but all the unexpected factors pushed it up another notch. Watch out -- I may be talking about it for some time to come.

See also:
» september gurls
» you can tell that i'm not lying
» if i had a mountain
» the lovely way the sunshine bends

Saturday, October 06, 2012

september gurls

The wait between Largo shows -- much less Jon Brion gigs -- wasn't supposed to be this long either, but as I said before, stuff happens. Back in January, I had a similar decision to make. This time, I took the other path, and I'm confident it was absolutely the right choice.

Jon Brion, Largo at the Coronet, September 28, 2012: This gig, in fact, marked the first Jon Brion show I've seen this year. What is this -- 2004?! Hopefully, it won't be the last, but if it does turn out to be my sole Jon Brion concert in 2012, there are worse shows to catch.

Since the last time I saw Jon working his magic (Christmas Eve eve, to be exact), he's made several changes to his setup, most notably the all-acoustic arrangement. In place of the pounds and pounds of hardware and yards and yards of cabling was a simple tableau: On stage right stood the trusty Largo piano and a single celeste, while the middle ground hosted 10 acoustic guitars and a chair. That's right -- no Chamberlin or drum set or vibes, as had been the custom. In the interim, I've heard mixed reports on this arrangement, but it was time to find out for myself.

Jon started on guitar, picking out a tune I would've classified as a standard I couldn't name had he not actually sang it. Otherwise, I wouldn't have stood a chance to figure it out, but I was glad to finally recognize it as an old Billie Holliday tune that Jon switched up for better gender identification. He followed it up with "Someone Else's Problem Now," a perennial early-set ice breaker, and stayed with the guitars for "She's at It Again."

A shift to the piano brought up the "Punch-Drunk Melody," then a segue into "Here We Go," which brought back to me every reason I go to Largo. For one thing, I got my favorite chair, which means I had the pleasure of taking in the performance from the best seat in the house. The vocals, the piano work, the subtle rhythms -- even for a nonmusical person like myself -- were as close and as vibrant as could be. It just confirmed for me that the Largo experience is almost impossible to beat.

As for the song itself, Jon worked out a slightly deconstructed and extended coda -- a gorgeous reminder of a music as a living, shifting entity. Sigh.

He expanded on this blueprint with "Trouble," which kicked off with a big, pounding intro before settling into its more customary form. But of course, there were variations within the tune itself, such as an extended, somber bridge, as well as a slower, weighty pace later in the progression. By the final verse ("There's a conversation"), Jon's voice stood nearly alone until he brought the piano back up to meet it. Wowzers.

A 12-string emerged as the instrument of choice for a jangly "Love of My Life So Far." I wouldn't say Jon went bluegrass on it, but the fingerpicking got fancy, especially on the bridge.

He picked up the battered old metal hollow-body guitar for the next tune, which I initially thought would be "Knock Yourself Out." I was wrong, but I didn't know it for a while, as Jon sat back and strummed away, as if sitting on someone's porch or enjoying some downtime in the studio. The mystery song turned out to be even better, as it was "Surrender." There may have been a weak effort to sing along, but we came nowhere close to that rendition I once heard in Chicago.

"Same Mistakes" came next, then the floodgates opened as Jon asked for requests. I really had no guesses as to how Jon would handle requests without his mountain of electronics. As it turned out, the approach remained the same, even if the mechanics differed somewhat. If you've seen Jon on these jags of requests, you know he sort of cleanses the palate with a sweep of the keyboard or a charge of the guitar as he bounces between tracks.

With only acoustics on hand, he was a little more subtle in his transitions, often trying to find common ground before making his move. From what I can recall, this worked best in connecting "This Will Be Our Year" and "Ruby Tuesday," and especially so with "Rainbow Connection" and "Shipbuilding." Then again, that could be my excitement over hearing any Elvis Costello song interpreted by Jon.

Anyway, it was superfun, particularly when Jon subbed in his own lyrics for "Dancing Days" ("something about trolls"). At the same time, a number of requests were treated with absolute respect, including "I've Just Seen a Face" and "Moonage Daydream." "Positively 4th Street" would be on that list too, except that Jon purposely chose to abandon it short of the nine verses.

At this point, I have to interrupt with a Crotchety Old-Timer comment. I'm happy to say I ran into several old friends and familiar faces on this visit to Largo, but it was also apparent in the audience reaction that newer fans continue to arrive. The tell-tale moment this evening emerged with the Thin Lizzy track "The Boys Are Back in Town." Not only was the singalong a bit of a wash, the giggles that accompanied Jon's launching into the tune suggested to me most of the crowd had little inkling that he used to do the song on the ukelele. It was definitely fun to hear, but it also reminded me that the room could use some schooling on how to embrace the tune.

During the request barrage, the audience response had built into a roar, and even from my seat, I could barely make out individual words, much less titles being directed at the stage. Jon took the reins and broke us up into groups based on our location in the room, though even then, the aural mishmash continued. Somehow, the medleys eventually worked out and continued to give back.

"Into the Atlantic," according to Jon, was a request. Also according to Jon: It may be about the ocean, but Largo scholars may recall it's based on Jon's struggles with Meaningless and its release. At first, I thought it might be the first time I've heard it, but my meticulous (bwahahahahahaha) records indicate otherwise. However, it remains a rare track -- one I haven't heard in five years -- and I commend the person who called out for it.

"You Don't Know What Love Is" eased out on piano, and "Baby Elephant Walk" came up as a request, complete with Jon's singing the melody. Then we took an authentic left turn.

Jon turned again to the audience, but this time asked us to create a beat -- not on the "Bohemian Rhapsody" level, but otherwise, his instructions were open-ended. I think he got us started with a mild suggestion of clapping against our legs or clicking our fingers. He also encouraged us to mix it up and add more syncopation if the mood struck us. Before long, we settled into an easy, upbeat flow. From there, Jon brought in his contribution, resulting in "More Than This."

My love affair with this song has been well documented on this blog. But I can say with some confidence that this performance was the most unique take I've yet heard. Even more, it opened my eyes to how artists mold and remake their favorites.

When Jon first started using the video decks, "More Than This" came up often, with a clip of a Latino band forming the foundation of the song. In effect, we were that band tonight. I still don't know how Jon got that tropical rhythm from such a quintessentially '80s tune, but bless him for the connection. Here -- check out the video and send any theories my way.

Jon paused the musical activities for commentary, noting that a lot of Beatles requests had come up tonight and how the band often becomes a common language between musicians of various stripes, no matter their background or influences. He decided to put this theory to the test, and we were the guinea pigs.

He asked if there were any guitarists in the audience who could play Beatles songs on guitar. A young man named Jordan was chosen. He was clearly nervous onstage, but he managed to hold it together for a quick strum on the guitar that passed muster with Jon. A second guitarist (fun fact No. 1: he may or may not have been the slack fan pushed aside by meth lady in Reno earlier in the week) soon joined him (fun fact No. 2: they both brought their own guitar picks), and Jon subjected them to a "public audition," requesting they hit the bridge of "She Said, She Said." (Fun fact No. 3: That was my request!)

They were, in a word, great. Their voices sounded lovely together, and they clearly knew the song. Jon, meanwhile, added lead guitar and harmonies, but the two guests were the show. Between "Surrender" and the fledgling band, I couldn't help but think back to a freezing, unforgettable night in Chicago a few years back.

Jon next asked for drummers, and a couple more guys joined them to take over percussive instruments (tambourine and shaker, to be exact). In the Largo tradition, they took some time trying to decide on their next opus. Though Jon ostensibly left it up to the co-guitarists, he shot down the suggestion for "Let It Be." Thankfully, they settled on "Something," which saw Jon taking a more prominent role. Not only did he sing and play lead guitar, he shouted out chord changes and kicked in harmonies.

The group's final song together was "You Can't Do That," with Jon now fully in control, including commanding us to "sing, you fuckers!" I can account for at least three people who did our part; I hope we weren't alone.

Throughout the evening, Jon had been somewhat joking about his studio techniques and how he coaxes the desired performance out of musicians. In fact, the run up to "More Than This" included these purported tips. Before he closed out the first set, Jon shared one more studio story, a legend about Roy Thomas Baker. The exact quote is too good for me to mangle, but I guess it was sort of an acknowledgement of his vocal limitations that evening. I don't know -- he sounded pretty good to me.

Anyway, maybe his doubts about his voice moved him to encourage us to contribute what we could to the final two songs: a couple of Beach Boys classics, sort of a counterweight to the earlier Beatles barrage. We did what we could, though neither was the best rendition I've ever heard at Largo. I'm happy to report, though, that Jon was all there on both songs.

Jon then encouraged us to stick around for another show in the Little Room -- according to locals, for the first time this year. As if the night weren't already awesome enough?!

To be fair, Jon kept us waiting for a little while, supposedly as part of his plan to make sure we were as drunk as he was by the time the second set started. When he finally arrived, Jon greeted us with his KCRW voice, a joke that would extend through the rest of the show.

I'm hopeless when it comes to jazzy instrumentals, so I'll merely relay Jon opened with two such numbers, the second of which sounded a little more modern. (Again, I know not of what I speak.) "Excuse to Cry," the third tune, was the first one I recognized, performed on guitar.

Jon opened the floor to requests, and they turned out to be more above the board -- at first. "Meaningless" was fun and faithful, the Chicago tune was slightly tongue-in-cheek, and I welcome "September Gurls" anytime, anywhere, anyhow. Thanks to the genius who pulled off what I've long wanted to do.

Then we hit a road bump. A guy near the front of the room loudly requested "The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway," which took Jon down a path that covered Genesis, prog rock in general, and awful Procol Harum lyrics. That's all I can really say, except that Jon's comments on "Homburg" were both spot on and hilarious.

The final song of the night was refreshing and classic, and really, you can never go wrong with Cole Porter. Jon turned in a full-body performance for "Anything Goes," stamping his feet and rocking on the piano bench as he led the song through several tempoes and transitions.

It's official: I've missed Largo something awful. But if all goes according to plan, it won't be another eight months before I'm back.

--She's Funny That Way
--Someone Else's Problem Now
--She's at It Again
--Punch-Drunk Melody/Here We Go
--Love of My Life So Far
--Same Mistakes
--Dance Hall Days/Dancing Days/Happy Birthday/Positively 4th Street
--This Will Be Our Year/Ruby Tuesday/Hungry Like the Wolf/Across the Universe
--Rainbow Connection/Shipbuilding/Knock Yourself Out
--I've Just Seen a Face/Rocky Raccoon/There Is a Light That Never Goes Out/Moonage Daydream
--Pale Blue Eyes/The Boys Are Back in Town
--Into the Atlantic
--You Don't Know What Love Is
--Baby Elephant Walk
--More Than This
--She Said, She Said
--You Can't Do That

--I Just Wasn't Made for These Times
--God Only Knows

Little Room
--jazzy interlude #1
--jazzy interlude #2
--Excuse to Cry
--Does Anyone Really Know What Time It Is?
--September Gurls
--Lamb Lies Down on Broadway
--Shine on Brightly
--Anything Goes

See also:
» can't stand it
» a really good time
» i can come to my senses
» like a dream in the night
» there was no way of knowing
» don't give yourself away

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

if I had a mountain

A fairly early morning followed the Berkeley shows as we set out for Reno, our second stop on this Wilco run. We didn't make the best time, thanks to a detour through wine country that was absolutely worth the diversion. I wouldn't have changed a thing, on either side of the border.

Wilco, Grand Sierra Theatre, September 23, 2012: When I first told my cousin I was headed to this show, she asked if Wilco was playing a casino. I read between the lines -- we all know who plays casinos, right? Never mind that Wilco already graced at least one gambling den a few years back, and it turned out to be a totally unique gig on several counts. Also, we all know the music industry has changed over the last couple of decades. Today's casino gig isn't necessarily your parents' casino gig.

Wilco, Grand Sierra Theatre, 09-23-12

Of course, I can crow about it now because the Reno gig was a hoot overall, but I shared my cousin's apprehension at first. My concerns had more to do with the venue. Early photos revealed a setup more suited to, say, Steve and Eydie than to the bands I see in little clubs. Also, who goes to shows in Reno?

Even after we entered the room, questions lingered. Most of the dozen-odd people in front of us in line opted to grab a booth so that the elongated GA floor looked ever more expansive as a handful of us staked out our spots. The room eventually filled up, but to add to the strange sensation, Jonathan Richman and Tommy Larkin's equipment was set unnervingly close to the edge of the stage. I think maybe two inches separated us from Tommy's kit. Thankfully, Wilco's gear sat several yards away, though not far enough to discourage interlopers under the influence (more on that later).

Jonathan Richman, Grand Sierra Theatre, 09-23-12

I'm not sure if I've gone over this before, so forgive me if I'm repeating myself (and playing the pedant card too hard), but Wilco tends to roll out a certain set whenever the band visits a new town. For these first visits, they usually favor the newest album, add in tracks from Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, slot in the nightly staples (these days, "Impossible Germany"; on the West Coast, often "California Stars"), then mix it up with album cuts and whatever else strikes their fancy.

This formula held in Reno, with a bunch of YHF tunes, but surprisingly, Wilco opted for a couple of AM tracks as well: the underrated "Should've Been in Love" (a popular request on Wilcoworld, apparently) and the no-brainer "Casino Queen." The other unexpected flavor to the setlist was the reliance on Wilco's artsier tunes. As it was Sunday, the set opened with "One Sunday Morning," followed by "Poor Places" and "Art of Almost." In the second encore, we'd get "Via Chicago," which sent the fanboys directly to my left into paroxysm of joy (even if they or one of their friends claimed ignorance on "California Stars").

You could argue that loud/soft/chaos/control mix is the foundation of Wilco's works, but trust me, I've heard a lot more straightforward sets in bigger towns. Kudos to the band for pulling it off in a tertiary market!

Jeff had a couple of amusing exchanges with the audience. For one, he conducted an informal poll asking who'd attended Wilco's earlier appearance in Reno, in support of Sheryl Crow. By Jeff's rough count, about seven people could claim the distinction. On a related note, Jeff asked how many people were actually from Reno. The response was bigger, but not particularly overwhelming. Doing their part, the audience gave back with tons of enthusiasm and a chant of "eight more songs," a bizarrely specific number. I can't report if the math worked out, but I think they were in the same ballpark as the printed setlist. It all added up to a loose, rocking show -- the kind I dream of as I'm covering miles upon miles between venues.

By the end of the evening, Jeff said something to the affect that Nevadans are the best. As a Californian, I was OK with that. I already know where to find the greatest audience of all. Hell, I tip my hat to Reno too.

Two notes before I conclude this post: Toward the end of Jonathan Richman's set, a woman barged in next to us, taking advantage of the far too relaxed fellow who didn't guard his spot at the front of the stage. She stayed for the rest of Wilco's set, during which she occasionally interjected, "We love you, Jeff Tweedy!" It became pretty evident that she was tweaked out, but I was still surprised when she jumped onstage between the main set and the encore to try to grab the set list. The security crew was somewhat slow on the uptake, though they managed to bring her back to the pit. In the process, I lost a bet.

Finally, that left turn we took toward wine country led us to the Bouchon Bakery. If only every Sunday morning looked like this.

Bouchon breakfast See also:
» the lovely way the sunshine bends
» where the blacktop cracks

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

the lovely way the sunshine bends

The wait between shows wasn't supposed to be this long, but stuff happens. I mean, there was one gig in Portland back in July, but it didn't feel like blog material. Anyway, I can promise at least a few updates coming up, starting with -- for better or worse -- familiar names.

Wilco, Greek Theatre, September 21-22, 2012: As stated ad nauseum in this blog, there's only one reason I'll go to the Greek Theatre these days, but that didn't mean I necessarily looked forward to these shows. Fortunately, I'm happy to say I was completely wrong, as there's so much more to a concert than stage height and proximity to my apartment. In short, Wilco put on a great two-night stand, adding up to fantastic weekend all around.

Let's hit the tangibles first. As this was Wilco's only multishow appearance in any city on this touring run, the Berkeley audience got a varied setlist that included tracks heard less often, including "Laminated Cat," "Wishful Thinking," and "Company in My Back," to name a few. The track list alone would've made this set of gigs a highlight in any touring year, but there was so much more.

Early in the first night, "Sunken Treasure" jumped out at me. Of course, it's a staple of Wilco's set, but longtime observers may have noticed the band's ongoing tinkering with one of its more seminal tracks. I honestly think you could write a whole 33 1/3 book on this song alone. A number of years ago, I recall a loping, jazzy treatment; you could practically hear the song breathe as it progressed. This time, the band seemed to take the opposite tack, with a tauter, more menacing approach that reminded me strongly of the desperation I heard when I first listened to the song.

I've heard most Wilco songs more than any human being needs to, so I can't claim ignorance or lack of exposure to the band's catalog. For whatever reason, however, two more titles hit me in a way that are so obvious I shouldn't bother typing out my thoughts -- but I will!

The first was "Say You Miss Me," which I've always loved, but my ears finally registered the Rolling Stones influence. Maybe it was the electric guitar? Anyway, it drove home the wistfulness, as if I needed another reason to totally dig that song.

It happened once more toward the end of the second night with "Kicking Television." Yeah, the tune's roots hide in plain view, but dammit, even the desiccated husk of Iggy and Co. would have to smile at this volcanic rendition. You could feel that lowdown guitar/drum/bass rumble all the way to your core.

The other highlights of the show are a little harder to quantify; all I can really say is that the two-night span felt like a big celebration. Jeff was in a great mood, bringing his guitar tech out for a joke referencing his son Spencer's appearance at the Greek a few years back, cracking the obligatory marijuana jokes, and unbuttoning Josh's shirt when the tech at first resisted the move for his customary cameo on "Hoodoo Voodoo."

However, a better indication of the mutual appreciation flowing between the audience and the band had to be the sheer number of singalongs. Not surprising, we kicked in with "Shot in the Arm" and "Hummingbird," but even Jeff noted our stronger than usual contributions on the latter. I don't think any of us could've predicted that Jeff would hand over the entire first verse of "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart" to the fans -- who came through beautifully, if I say so myself. You might've foreseen the collective effort on "Misunderstood," but that doesn't take away from the simple fact that probably thousands of fans were united in roaring out verse after verse of their angst in rock form.

Jeff registered a couple of sassy comments about the uneven ticket sales over the two nights. Though the second night felt full enough, the first evening drew a sparser crowd. The head count felt respectable to me, especially considering the faithful had already turned out for the band's extended visit earlier this year. But in case you had any suspicions Jeff was joshing us, he gushed over the Bay Area fans, calling us the best audience anywhere and crediting us with inventing the rock crowd. He even noted our knowledge of "deep album cuts," a sure sign of dedication. It wasn't the first time he's shared these sentiments, but it never gets old to these local ears.

Cibo Matto opened for Wilco the first night, and Jonathan Richman took the mantle the second night. On both nights, the respective opener's fans made themselves known. Cibo Matto probably held the edge with Wilco fans, as every single Wilco band member joined Cibo Matto during their set, including Jeff lending vocals to "Sugar Water." Jonathan Richman reprised his opener role with Wilco, as he did in 2001. By the end of the evening, Jeff cited Jonathan as one of the dozen most important American musicians of all time, alongside the likes of Little Richard and Woody Guthrie (he didn't flesh out all 12).

Music aside, this tour also became an excuse to visit a few of California's finer bakeries, and we kicked off the carbo loading with one of the best in the country: Tartine. You don't need to know my complete lack of restraint at my first sighting ever of the fable Tartine croissants (the hazards of being a late, lazy riser who lives on the other side of town). All you need to know is that two croissants -- and the banana cream pie, I suppose -- are but a fraction of the final order.

Tartine croissants

See also:
» can't find the time to write my mind
» i've run out of metaphors
» tired of being exposed to the cold