The dream is real! Wilco finally brought its five-night residency to San Francisco at, even better, the Fillmore. To be sure, Wilco has a long history of multinight stands at the Fillmore and the Bay Area in general, and this wasn't exactly the Incredible Shrinking Tour of Chicago, but I'll take the simpler arrangement anytime. More important, I lived to tell, so let's go with it.
Wilco, the Fillmore, Sept. 6-7, 9-11, 2016: I've mentioned this factoid approximately a million times on this blog, but in this case, it's worth repeating. My first live Wilco experience was a three-night stand at the Fillmore back in 2000, in support of Mermaid Avenue Vol. II. I had fallen in love with the band's music, particularly Being There, and decided to go to all three shows. Keep in mind: None of my friends at the time liked or even knew about the band, and I'd never them live, not to mention I was still deeply into British music. But anyone who knows me knows I tend to go for all or nothing. I was all in, and clearly, it was one of the best music-related decisions in my life -- because here we are.
At the time we bought tickets, I don't think anyone of us knew the shows would be in support of a new record. And I honestly don't care anymore. If Wilco is playing a reasonably sized venue in town, I'm there. I have faith that they'll figure out a setlist with at least a few beloved deep tracks or offer new arrangements that will awaken my ears.
Even after the news that we'd hear a lot of Schmilco at the shows, my expectations didn't change a lot. Of course I looked forward to the new material, but we Wilco fans aren't married to the album-tour-album-tour cycle. Besides, Wilco has enough songs that they're sure to surface a bunch of underappreciated tracks at any show.
Anyway, this happens to be my favorite way of hearing new music: the live experience. As of this writing, I bought Schmilco today (Sept. 15), but I still don't know all the titles. Of course, I recognize a bunch of songs they played at the shows, and I'm amazed at the transformation to the live form. As with Star Wars, I'm glad I got to hear the music crafted from the ground up in front of me before I had a chance to get comfortable with their studio renditions.
I was lucky enough to go to the original five-night residency (which almost killed me), and I've come to understand it was a true one-off. I wouldn't put it past Wilco to air out the entire discography at some other point, and Jeff has been known to change it up at his solo shows. But this run was marked by a core of songs each night. Schmilco set the foundation, and I came to understand the other evergreen tracks highlighted certain skills among the band.
I'll cite three classics because they are especially significant to me. First off: "Impossible Germany." This has been a staple of Wilco's set for many years now, and there's no arguing its beauty and transcendence, but in a smaller venue, it finally hit me. Jeff often likens concerts and churches in their ability to unite people, and you certainly hear it when the crowd sings along. But I'd argue that "Impossible Germany" has become the centerpiece of Wilco's live show. You can hear the excitement and anticipation build with Nels' solo, then giving way to the roars as he returns to the song's framework. I told a friend/newbie it was Wilco's masterpiece, which I didn't really understand until this run of shows.
The other song is "Spiders," which is sort of a companion piece to "Impossible Germany." Wilco actually mixed up this tune more than usual, playing it at increased speed. In earlier incarnations, the guitar solos were the catharsis -- they still are -- but there was no mistaking the new emphasis on Glenn. Much as Nels guides an integral part of "Impossible Germany," Glenn did the same with "Spiders," as all eyes went to him during an extended solo until he damn well wanted to end it. The two showcases couldn't be more welcome.
Finally: "Misunderstood." Back to old hoary tales -- this song scared the shit out of me at the aforementioned 2000 shows. But it and the band have changed over the years, to the point where it's currently acoustic and hushed, most notably in the trademark "nothing" parade. There's probably a more encompassing analogy between the band's and the song's development, but I'm not the one to say. Instead, listen and enjoy.
The songs between the mainstays sometimes followed a theme or at least a spotlight album. It's a no-brainer my favorite was Friday night and the Being There encore. It would be too much of a pain to name all the favorite deep tracks, so I'll simply say I loved every opportunity for us to sing along in unison. Also, I will fight people over the excellence of Sky Blue Sky.
One special notice goes to Julian Lage, who joined the band for a handful of songs on the last night. I've heard many, many guests on "California Stars," and even the big names kind of punch the clock on the song. I mean, it's always fun and sweet, but holy cow, Julian took it to another level. It's no exaggeration to say it's the best guest appearance I've ever heard for the song. I hope everyone in the room recognized the brilliance.
Jeff didn't disappoint with his banter either. Wednesday was the best night in that regard, though I won't embarrass the subject further (if he's reading), except to say it was hilarious. I'll replay that beat after "We Aren't the World (Safety Girl)" in my head forever. Also, I'll never say no to Jeff telling the Fillmore audience that we are the best in the world. We know ... and we love it.
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the added joy of all the wonderful friends who came to town for the shows. Hope you enjoyed San Francisco summer and public transport! Please come back any time. Also, thanks for putting up with me reminding everyone endlessly that I had a 10K on Sunday morning. As of this writing, I'm still recovering, but it was entirely worth it.
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