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.
The 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.
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.
The 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.
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