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.
Berkeley 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.
I 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.
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