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.
Wilco, 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.
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.
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.
The 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?
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.
» 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