Monday, August 17, 2015

everyone wastes my time

Could I have skipped Outside Lands after Wilco's show at the Independent? Sure -- but I'd feel like an idiot for missing the band when they play five blocks from my apartment. Honestly, I couldn't not go and be happy with my decision.

Outside Lands, Golden Gate Park, Aug. 7, 2015: I've been to Outside Lands exactly twice, both times for the exact same reason. Yup, Wilco was back, which meant so was I. However, I didn't realize until this weekend that we went to the first Outside Lands in 2008. My, how things have changed -- the festival is a real destination now, even if it's also fallen into the cookie-cutter summer festival mode. But certainly its size and stature have grown, now encompassing a comedy bill and extra stages (like I ever check out other stages at festivals).

Also, back in 2008, Wilco was the headliner on the smaller stage, which was a godsend for me. Now, they were on the massive stage on the Polo Fields, and Mumford and Sons topped the bill. The silver lining: Wilco was playing on Friday, before the crowds grew too suffocating, and with First Aid Kit and St. Vincent, they formed a fantastic three-band run. In fact, despite the usual shenanigans, we never felt crushed, and we were more amused by the fans' insistence on sitting between acts, rather than pushing closer to the front. I probably wouldn't love this festival, but I'd damn well like it.

The Family Crest started the day, and it didn't take a genius to trace their influences. In fact, independent of each other, three of us cited Arcade Fire, minus the Caribbean tones. To their credit, they had all the earnestness and enthusiasm of a high school drama class, which was very cute. As locals, they were also welcomed warmly.

Eurythmics, TouchLake Street Drive followed, and I think I've seen them exactly once on the Colbert Report. We noted that their four band members looked like they were drawn from three different bands, though that's not a terrible thing. I can't say they did much for me, despite an Annie Lennox cover and a brief foray into Van Halen, though the former brought out a hilarious comment from a child next to us who had never heard of the legendary songstress. Get her a copy of Touch stat!

First Aid Kit was the first band of the day I actually wanted to see. As I may have noted a million times, my concert going has dropped off precipitously, and I don't see as many bands as I used to. It's more a commentary on my habits than on the quality of music these days. Anyway, I would've loved to have seen First Aid Kit at a smaller venue, but that's the way it goes sometimes.

No reason to fear -- First Aid Kit have become festival veterans, and their sunny, sweet sound was a lovely complement to the bright, beautiful day. They threw in a cover of "War Pigs" for a touch of testosterone, and the sisters played up the theatrics, with extra stomps and flourishes.

First Aid Kit, Outside Lands, 08-07-15Call me basic, but their big hit was the one that grabbed me. Something about "Emmylou" turned on the waterworks, and I couldn't stop crying during the song (fortunately, it was the closing number). As far as I can recall, this has happened to me exactly twice: When Jon Brion played "More Than This" at the Hideout and when Frightened Rabbit quoted Wilco during "Keep Yourself Warm." You can probably see why I'd get emotional over those moments, but with First Aid Kit, it came out of the blue. Chalk it up to a beautiful tune, a timeless sentiment, and the power of sibling harmonies. I still get choked up when the song flits through my head.

St. Vincent was up next, and talk about contrast -- her artsy take was a huge departure from First Aid Kit and Wilco (next on the bill). I recall seeing her once before, opening for Steve Malkmus and the Jicks, but as it turned out, I saw part of her set at Cafe du Nord a while ago too (according to my archives). I have no recollection of the second date, but even as an opener, she made a huge impression. It was only a matter of time before she'd break through.

You might not even recognize the current incarnation of St. Vincent compared to that early show with Malkmus. Her talent was always evident, but her innovation is now on full display. I honestly can't say anything about the staging or the choreography or even the wardrobe, but she still sounded great, and I couldn't stop thinking about how much she reminded me of Prince. Both are undeniably gifted, and they enjoy playing with personae and identity.

St. Vincent, Outside Lands, 08-07-15I'm kind of burying the lede. We had been planted front and center since the gates opened, which is simply our MO. The big payoff came at the beginning of St. Vincent's set, when she descended the stairs set up specifically for her show, climbed on the barrier directly in front of us, and rocked out. At one point, she grabbed a fan's phone and took a selfie with it. The crowd surged, the photographers went nuts, and she thrilled. That is how you do a festival show!

Frankly, I was a little concerned about the reception for Wilco at Outside Lands. On the one hand, they're huge in the Bay Area, and obviously not everyone could get into the Independent show. However, the other bands on the bill skewed young, and St. Vincent is kind of the opposite of the dreaded dad-rock label so often pasted on to Wilco.

Stationed at the front, I can't say for sure how Wilco went over. We had a cozy contingent around us, but at certain points, I think the woman to my left (who'd been trying to squeeze me out for several acts) simply set her head down on the railing, not even looking up. On the other other hand, her daughter seemed reasonably invested in the show. Let's call it a draw?

Other than Solid Sound, fesival sets tend to be underwhelming, especially if you're a die-hard fan. We had to wonder how they'd fit in Star Wars, plus catalog selections into the abbreviated festival window. The answer: They hit the "hits," threw in a couple of surprises, and ended on a song that was both a staple of the set but an unconventional closer. In the words of Colonel Landa from Inglourious Basterds: That's a bingo!

Yay to "You Satellite" returning to the set! And I already want to hear "Cold Slope"/"King of You" all the time. Also, kudos to everyone for making "Magnetized" work in a massive field.

Wilco, Outside Lands, 08-07-15

As for the rest of the set, of course you expect "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart," "Via Chicago," "Heavy Metal Drummer," and "I'm the Man Who Loves You," but the other half of the non-Star Wars set played more to the old fans than the festival novices. I mean, "Handshake Drugs" is a pop song that everyone should hear, but it also kinda wanders and unwinds. "Art of Almost," as its name promises, is an art piece, while "Box Full of Letters" may be older than many of the youngsters in attendance. I'd even say the crowd didn't fully awaken until "Via Chicago," specifically the part where Jeff and John serenely sing over chaotic breakdown. That drew a notable roar from the audience.

Wilco, Outside Lands, 08-07-15Toward the end of the set, the clock suggested the band would squeeze in "California Stars," perfect for the local audience and for festivals in general -- and maybe they'd bring in First Aid Kit? Nope, they went for "Impossible Germany," which is not exactly a shocker, as it's timeless and transcendent. However, it would mean that they'd go over their time -- but that wasn't our problem. One of the most memorable performances I've seen of the song came at the earlier Outside Lands, where Nels looked possessed through his solo and, more unexpectedly, took to the mic at the end of the song to dedicate it to John Cipollina. It wasn't quite that level, but the band took its time and didn't seem at all bothered by the prospect of making room for Mumford. As a longtime Wilco fan, I can say they managed to flip the script, and I was glad everyone got to hear Star Wars all wired up. Of course, the highlight of Outside Lands weekend had already happened the day before.

By the way, we got the hell out before Mumford came on and invoked the photographer rule for D'Angelo and the Vanguard: three songs and we left. D'Angelo and crew sounded great, but our legs, appetites, and attention spans demanded a break. Should the opportunity arise, I'd love to see them at another time.

I should probably report on celebrity sightings. I first spied members of Mumford and Sons -- accompanied I think by the blonde chick from Glee -- during First Aid Kit's set, and I believe Jeff Tweedy lingered in the back for their tunes. Everyone showed up for St. Vincent, including Nels Cline and Johanna from First Aid Kit. Wilco brought out Marcus Mumford and Annie Clark, but more important, Frank Riley held court! Granted, we also saw him at the Independent, but in short: Weekend. Made. And embarrassment be damned, I saw the Twilight werewolf kid walk past us in the photo pit toward the end of Wilco's set. (I refuse to Google his name.) Sadly, no sightings of Steve Wozniak on his Segway this time.

See also:
» i'd be lying if i said it wasn't easy
» rosin smells and turpentine smells
» like a dream in the night
» we adopt a brand-new language
» done well is so much fucking better
» as fickle as a paper doll
» the whole love

Saturday, August 15, 2015

i'd be lying if i said it wasn't easy

Wilco's gigs at the Greek Theatre and Outside Lands were announced first, then this gem sprang up -- the date we were really waiting for. Wilco was set to play the Independent, a venue they could easily fill several times over. As fans, we couldn't ask for anything more.

Notorious Wilco BrothersWilco, the Independent, Aug. 6, 2015: In my mind, I was sure that the Independent had to be bigger than the Great American Music Hall, which the band last played in 2003 (before I started this blog). At the time, the demand far exceeded the supply, and I only made it in thanks to the kindness of someone who read my posts on Via Chicago. (Note: At the time, I sent out bootlegs to nearly anyone who asked.) Flash-forward 12 years, and Wilco's popularity has skyrocketed, but as it turns out, the Independent is smaller than the Great American, according to Web sources. Yet somehow we had no problems getting tickets, and I even told my cousin to put back the tickets in her shopping basket. In fact, we had a couple of extras and found a couple of enthusiastic and welcome takers -- win/win/win all around!

But before I get to the concert report, bear with me as we review the history of the Independent. This black box on Divisadero has gone through many incarnations, including the legendary Kennel Club and, later, the Justice League. I honestly can't remember if I ever went to the Kennel Club, though I suspect I didn't. It's worth Googling the Kennel Club's history, if you're curious. However, I spent a lot of time at the Justice League, then known for dance acts. I have vivid memories of an especially sweaty, exhausting, and exhilarating Fatboy Slim gig, but drum and bass as well as a trip hop were big draws back then too.

That's my way of saying Wilco's date at the Independent was a treat in more ways than one, not only because of its size but also its provenance. Of course, I didn't catch the band on their Incredible Shrinking Tour of Chicago, and Lincoln Hall probably gives the Independent a run for its money, but I can speak of only what I know. Hey, if the band ever wants to do Bimbo's, Bottom of the Hill, and the Chapel to check off every amazing venue in San Francisco, they're welcome to it, and I will do my best to be there.

Notorious Wilco Brothers

Honestly, there's only one thing to say about seeing Wilco at the Independent for an all-acoustic show: It was amazing. This was not a setup you see every day, either in terms of the room or the arrangement. As a fan, it's everything you hope for, even if you've already been in extremely small rooms with the lead singer.

Coming off Solid Sound, I had seen the all-acoustic treatment recently, but that was on a vastly larger stage. Solid Sound was wonderful to hear, but something changes when you're planted at the front of a tiny stage in a small room. In fact, though Wilco went with a fraction of their usual haul of equipment, they still barely managed to fit the stage, to give you an idea of how the scale of the room.

Of course, one big change has taken place since Solid Sound: Star Wars, the new album. There was some question of whether the band would stick to its plan to play the record in this setting. It took a couple of songs before they answered the question (including a nod to the Byrds and the Notorious Wilco Brothers billing), but "More ..." dropped us right into the new release.

Notorious Wilco Brothers

In all, they did almost the entirety of Star Wars, with a couple of exceptions: the opening track, which I guess they have yet to attempt live, and "You Satellite" -- which happens to be one of my favorites. Overall, they did surprisingly well translating the production-heavy tracks to acoustic treatments, though I suppose you should never be surprised that any song from Jeff Tweedy could be pared down to an unplugged treatment. "Taste the Ceiling" is the obvious choice for an acoustic gem, and the harmonies especially stood out. "Cold Slope"/"King of You" is indelible enough that my brain could supply the riffs, even if the band didn't. I can safely say I prefer the electric versions, even if the alternatives are still pretty cool.

"Magnetized" provided perhaps my favorite moment of the night. At the outset, Jeff warned us this would take a little bit of work, but good fans that we are, we quieted down and let them build the song to its majestic climax. I believe this is also the song where we saw yet another intriguing percussive element from Glenn. For the minimal beat that opens the track, Glenn tapped on the drum edge with -- his wedding ring? Some other implement? Anyway, we hadn't seen it before, and it was a subtle touch that probably could only be seen and heard in a room like the Independent. I'm so glad they were able to make it happen in front of us.

Notorious Wilco BrothersThe rest of the set was long and wide ranging, drawing on plenty of eras from the band discography. As befits a seemingly die-hard audience -- or at least the fans with the fleetest fingers, speediest connections, and deep-ish pockets -- the band took in B-sides, hits, crowd favorites, and obscure cuts. You knew this audience would get "New Madrid" -- complete with novel and unexpected slide guitar riffs from Nels -- but I love that the band is regularly doing songs off the underrated Whole Love. Alas, they didn't do my acoustic favorite/no-brainer "I Got You" (This Is 40 version), but they kind of made up for it with "Bull Black Nova," which is always a surprise. Also, the roars of approval for "It's Just That Simple" were thrilling to hear.

Jeff wasn't particularly talkative this evening, but he wrung out comedic moments from his few words, including a Trump reference. Also, early on, a guy in the audience requested "Theologians," which Jeff quickly shot down -- only to have the song show up on the setlist later in the evening. He also claimed to not realize another Star Wars movie was coming out, partly in response to the young men near the front wearing Darth Vader masks and Stormtrooper hats. He also made a comment about intellectual property -- so don't sue, Disney!

For us locals, the encore was especially satisfying. I mean, anytime the band does "Misunderstood" in San Francisco (or Berkeley or San Jose), I'll assume they're talking about my neighborhood, no matter what the actual Zip code, and I like to pretend "California Stars" is a small tribute to their massive fan base in the Golden State. But throw in the exultant "We've Been Had" and the doleful "True Love Will Find You in the End," and you hit a huge span of human emotion and experience. And isn't that why we listen to music in the first place?

Notorious Wilco Brothers

Sometimes I write a blog post and I pat myself on the back for capturing the memories -- but not today. If anything, I'm underselling the night. This evening was a perfect mix of music, friends, and atmosphere that rarely comes along, but strangely enough, it usually has something to do with Wilco and/or Jeff Tweedy. Funny how that works out!

Vetiver again opened the show, though in only a two-person setup. Their performance went over much better this time, probably due to the size of the room and the attentive audience. And as a San Franciscan, I can finally say I've actually seen this local band.

See also:
» the gray fountain spray of the great milky way
» everyone wastes my time
» i wish that i knew what I know now
» the whole love

Sunday, August 09, 2015

the gray fountain spray of the great milky way

After two years of not seeing Wilco, I made up for lost time as the band's 20th-anniversary tour finally came to the West Coast. First stop for me: the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles.

Wilco, Greek Theatre, Aug. 5, 2015: Los Angeles > Berkeley -- at least in terms of Greek theaters. I love my Cal roots, but LA's Greek Theatre is preferable in almost every way for music fans. I think it's smaller, the pit is ridiculously intimate, and the stage isn't 100 feet high, though the procurement of tickets can be a challenge. Also, it doesn't hurt that it's right in a friend's neighborhood, and we've made amazing memories there. If Wilco is playing at the Greek Theatre in LA, you know where to find me.

Wilco, Greek Theatre, 08-05-15

We took a slightly different tack from earlier visits: We hit the park at a mostly sane time, surrendering front and center spots to -- among others -- young men wearing Stormtrooper hats and waving tinsel and American flags. To their credit, they got a short shout-out from Jeff. Otherwise, apart from a dedication to Susan on the eve of their 20th wedding anniversary, Jeff indulged in little banter with the audience. Still, we found our spots just fine -- chalk it up to experience and the knowledge of lackadaisical LA audiences. Even better, the scorching skies had given way to cooler breezes. Early signs were all good.

After Solid Sound, I might not have needed to see this show. Who am I kidding? It's never a matter of "need" -- but at least I had an excuse to show up. On top of the 20th-anniversary angle, the band was now promoting Star Wars, the new record.

I admit I liked about half of the record on the first listen, but after a week-plus of intensive listening before the California swing, I can say it's closer to 75 percent now. I'm not sure I can fully get into a couple of songs, but the days are still young. Also, how cool is it that they released the record for free, no strings attached, and pulled a Beyonce in terms of an instant, secret drop? Remember when Radiohead's pay-what-you-want release was revolutionary?

Wilco, Greek Theatre, 08-05-15

I'm old and crotchety, so I have a long list of pet peeves. Among them is the album-in-its-entirety/anniversary performance ploy. But of course, this is not an anniversary (of a record), and Wilco's plan to play a brand-new album in order is the exact opposite of the nostalgia angle. There's nowhere to hide for either the band or the audience.

For me, the album's closing sequence is everything. The "Cold Slope"/"King of You" handoff is sublime, and "Magnetized" is one of the growers. Why hadn't I heard the Beatles thing in "Magnetized" before Daniel (who assuredly isn't reading this) pointed it out? Maybe because I was so taken by the '70-style dirty guitar tracks?

In the live setting, "Cold Slope"/"King of You" starts out unassumingly but eventually works up to a delicious clang of guitar and bass, allowing a pause only long enough to make you realize how badly you want more. I predict I'll want to listen to that sequence for a long time, though knowing Wilco, they'll find a way to mix it up with other tracks from the discography.

Can a band with no actual radio hits go into hits mode? Not exactly, but Wilco has clear audience favorites, which comprised much of the rest of the set. I don't know if a show with the alternate version of "Kamera," or the rambling "Art of Almost" can be considered everyday playlists, but in Wilco world, where we typically listen to albums and not isolated tracks, they can be more routine than you'd expect. Then again, I'm not sure that any Wilco track comes as a surprise these days if you follow the gig reports, now that they've thrown the song list wide open.

Wilco, Greek Theatre, 08-05-15If you didn't make the anniversary shows or the recent Solid Sound (which probably applies to most West Coast fans), the hootenanny/acoustic portion of the gig was probably the biggest treat, even if the segment might've been abbreviated for the curfew. Overall, I loved the mix of songs. I like to think that "Misunderstood" went to our friend in Los Feliz, both "It's Just That Simple" and "We've Been Had" took a ton of people by surprise, and you kinda have to do "California Stars" when you're playing underneath -- and in front of -- California stars.

Speaking of California stars, we once again spotted Jon Hamm in the audience, but now that I was finally not paralyzed and starstruck, the opportunity to accost him slipped away. At this rate, it's only a matter of time before I can repeat all my favorite 30 Rock/Kimmy Schmidt lines back at him!

The Greek Theatre has set a high bar for Wilco shows, especially with nods to family and loved ones. In comparison, this one was solid, though perhaps not as indelible as earlier appearances. Still, I'll come back here any time Wilco wants to set a date, Dr. Drew Baird/Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne lines at the ready.

Vetiver opened the show and were almost lost in the LA ennui -- but hey, the same happened to the Roots. I was rooting for them, but even with the full band, their sound couldn't fill the space. It probably didn't help that they saved the rockers until the end, but let's be clear that the empty seats couldn't be easy to play to.

See also:
» penny rich & dollar dumb
» a gift given accidentally
» the whole love