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.
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