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.
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).
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.
» the lovely way the sunshine bends
» where the blacktop cracks