Sixteen weeks. That's the amount of time between the middle of April (Pennsylvania) and July 30th, when I saw Wilco at Coveleski Stadium in South Bend. It's not a long time at all, considering the schedule of most touring bands. But by my spoiled, semi-local and travel-friendly Wilco schedule, it seemed like long enough.
Coveleski Stadium is a baseball park, and Wilco played a run of minor league ballpark shows last summer. I didn't make it to any of those, so South Bend was my first foray onto the infield turf for a concert. Friday's show was the band's first in the U.S. since that run of aberrant and fantastic shows that comprised the spring "Evening With" tour. This concert was billed as Wilco's last midwest appearance of 2010, and the crowd filed in with high expectations.
First up was Yo La Tengo, who played an enjoyable set slightly marred from our position by muddy sound. They joked that Wilco was headlining and they were opening because Wilco spent the time before the show practicing in the dressing room ... while Yo La Tengo sneaked into the room where the mascot uniforms are kept and took photos of themselves.
Wilco took the stage in the last light of the midsummer night, reminding me of my affection for outdoor shows. Half of the band looked comfortable in t-shirts, which was indicative of the prevailing mood: lots of smiles and casual banter, though the music was very much on the ball. The setting, and intermittent drizzle, afforded plenty of lyrical tie-ins throughout the evening. "Side with the Seeds," with its well-timed line about the park growing dark, left Jeff looking pleased with himself. "Broken Arrow," which I first heard covered by Wilco on a snowy night in February, couldn't have felt more different - and somehow more fitting - under the stars.
Thirty songs were played over two and a half hours, giving South Bend a lengthy and varied performance. Many standards didn't see the light of day (or the moonlight of night), leaving room for other less-played tunes. "Box Full of Letters" and "Can't Stand It" kept the energy up, and "Either Way" remains one of my favorites to hear in the great outdoors. The dangers posed by birds in such a setting were not overlooked by Jeff, who joked after "Say You Miss Me" that he didn't want to meet the same fate King of Leon had earlier in the month. He was quick to point out that Wilco wouldn't leave the stage under similar circumstances. In fact, "we've had roadies crap in our mouths and kept playing!" Thanks for that visual.
For the last encore, Wilco invited Yo La Tengo back to the stage for Big Star's "Thank You Friends." It was an upbeat finale that left the audience wanting more, but by then it was 11:00 p.m. My only South Bend regret was the omission of "Kicking Television," which was on the setlist but not played. We did hear it through the gates during soundcheck, which is better than no song at all.
I spent the rest of the hot, sunny weekend in Chicago. There were delicious meals out (Longman & Eagle, Bongo Room, Kuma's), strolling around the lake and museum campus, more music (Mission of Burma at Wicker Park fest, Algebro at Martyr's), and a lovely patio party at Kristina and Julio's. In just over a week I'm off to the Berkshires, and then there's that little solo show coming up in my friend's basement. I have plenty to look forward to before the next drought begins.