Tuesday, April 6, 2010
Thank you friends
I took an Easter trip to New Jersey and Rhode Island this past weekend to see Wilco. If you can believe it, I almost volunteered to work instead. I could've spent the holiday weekend in a Dakota (both on my list of states I've never visited) and taken some recovery time afterward. But as I struggled to figure out a way to make it all work, I realized: what was I, crazy? I already had two business trips scheduled. I was really going to forego rock tourism to do a third in one month? Nope. Besides, I'd never been to Rhode Island, either.
Trust me, it was a great decision.
If you read this blog with any frequency, you may be aware that I see a lot of Wilco shows. When the band announced an "Evening with Wilco" tour for March and April, the press promised extended sets spanning all of the band's releases. Still, I was skeptical that the shows would be markedly different from those I'm used to. No opening band is a sweet perk, but I've seen the band without an opener. Those shows are typically longer, and often contain surprises, but I wouldn't say they're a different experience.
In order to conserve vacation time, I limited the scope to open weekend dates on my calendar. New Jersey/Providence (three shows) and Philadelphia/Pittsburgh (two shows) were the contenders. On one hand, a tidy weekend in Pennsylvania. On the other hand, back-to-back shows in Montclair and my inaugural visit to RI. All the while, there was the nagging feeling in the back of my mind that these shows truly might be unique. Obviously, Wilco's "normal" show is incentive enough for me to take a trip. But if these turned out to be different, I'd kick myself later - hard - for failing to maximize my opportunities. So, both, then. Two weekend trips, in the middle three months already full to bursting with plans.
Trust me, it was a great decision.
Over the two nights in Montclair, Wilco played 60 different songs. Plus fifteen repeats. Then another 36-song set in Providence, adding four new ones to the tally (five if you count Mike's "Easter Bunny" synth number) for a grand total of 111 songs performed over three nights. Over nine hours of music.
When it comes to Wilco, I don't think I've felt quite so giddy as I did that first night in Montclair since the residency. It was that sense of having no idea would come next. Each show included a stripped-down, intimate set on mostly acoustic instruments, played at the front of the stage. (This arrangement is expertly set up and broken down without interrupting the music.) The setlists included new arrangements of songs I'd heard before, songs I'd never heard before, covers of Big Star (two!) and Buffalo Springfield songs, songs I'd dreamed about hearing again someday, and a side project song that I never thought Wilco would reprise as a full band. They played "More Like the Moon!" And "Dreamer in my Dreams" twice, with two different setups! "Candyfloss!" "Too Far Apart!" "Laminated Cat!" Pat played a banjo. John played a standup bass. Nels played an acoustic guitar. They gave away gift certificates for free dinners. The two nights in Montclair and the night in Providence - especially Montclair - more than exceeded my expectations.
Those were the shows, but there was also the tourism. Providence seems to be a great town, and I'm sorry I didn't have a chance to explore it on a day that wasn't Easter Sunday. Montclair also impressed - both Cafe Eclectic for drinks and Raymond's for brunch get a thumbs-up from me, and I could have spent hours in rooms upon rooms of the nearby bookstore. Montclair had some great houses, and though we didn't see many residential areas of Providence, the old buildings were impressive. Mail chutes! Architectural details! The weather was sunny and warm the entire time, too. Sitting on the steps of Providence's City Hall at 12:30 a.m. with friends, cracking up, enjoying refreshments from the legendary silver truck parked nearby, I realized for the thousandth time how much I just plain love doing this. I'm so glad I had the foresight to plan for another round next weekend.