Monday, May 30, 2011

The ocean

Final Saturday sunset

For the past week or two, I've been craving the ocean.

I don't know how to explain it any better. You know that feeling you get when you really want to be somewhere? Not somewhere you've never been; that desire is different. I'm talking about a place you've been before. This deep feeling that you ought to be there again. That by not being there, you're denying yourself something you actually need. You might be okay without it for awhile yet, but sooner or later it's going to catch up with you.

In my case, it's not one particular place. Any ocean would do. Specifically, a warm beach at night. In Waikiki, walking down the sand from bar to restaurant, no need to put my shoes back on. Or in San Sebastián, watching the sun set an hour later than it would here. Maybe even Panama City Beach, where late at night it does get quiet (in some places, anyway) and from my bedroom I can hear the waves breaking through the open patio doors.

I visited a couple of local lakes this weekend, hoping one might be a good substitute. No dice. The lakes were nice, and I enjoyed walking around shores and piers. I'm fond of pretty much any body of water, to be honest. But this ocean craving, it apparently can't be fooled.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

You'll come back again

Other entertainment options in Denton

Eight months! Nearly eight months passed between the last time I saw a Wilco show, in Scotland last September, and the end of the drought last weekend. For me, that's a mighty long time between shows. Not that I had much a choice, of course. Still, it felt awfully good to be on my way to see the band again - this time, down south.

Saturday night's show in Denton was an interesting one to start out with. It was held in a building at the University of North Texas: a lecture hall that had been converted into a concert venue for the evening. The seats were reserved, but it was apparent before the show began that it wasn't going to stay that way. There was far too much empty space between the stage and the seats for the crowd to remain docile. Sending more mixed signals was a barrier that had been erected about three feet from the stage. Barricades suggest that people are allowed to stand on one side of them, but security was enforcing a no-fan zone all the way back to the seats; a good ten feet or so more in some places. Thus, for the first half of the show, a complicated dance was performed. Fans would creep up, and then creep up a little more, then be shooed back by security, then creep up a little more, and so on. Eventually, there was only a foot or so between the intrepid front-line fans and the barrier. When Jeff made an exasperated comment and asked if everyone could just stand at the barricade itself, there was no more pretending. The reserved show officially turned into a GA show.

The crowd trended young, at least up front, and was very enthusiastic. I was, too. The shows on this short spring tour didn't remotely approach the length we saw last spring on the Evening With tour - in fact, they were a few songs shorter than typical setlists of the past. No matter: I was glad enough to see Wilco, period. We won't be hearing any new songs until Solid Sound next month, but the band played a nice mix that was - fine by me - heavy on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. In fact, the written setlist had even more YHF intended for the encore, but it was not to be. The rowdy crowd discouraged choices like "Poor Places" and "Reservations," in favor of faster numbers like "Hoodoo Voodoo" and "I Got You."

For me, Denton was a warm-up for the main event: Sunday night's show at Cain's Ballroom in Tulsa. I adore Cain's, and this was my third trip. If I can help it, I'll never miss a Wilco show there - in fact, I'd love to expand my Cain's resume. As expected, the wait in line was a hot one. The temperature was in the 80's, and felt much warmer in the sun. After the spring we've had so far in Wisconsin, it seemed like more than a fair trade. When we were finally let inside, the air conditioning felt delicious.

Tulsa's crowd was great. Everyone roared approval after each song, often stretching from the end of one to the first chords of the next. It was also great to be standing with so many friends. God bless weekend concerts! The band seemed to enjoy themselves too. Jeff called Cain's their home away from home, asking the owner of Cain's - sitting in front of the barrier for a few songs - if that was okay. It was.  Wilco delivered a mostly upbeat set, as befitted the mood of the night. There were a couple of Mother's Day shout-outs (including a heartfelt bellow from Glenn as he stood on his drum stool before "I'm the Man Who Loves You,") and a couple of Woody Guthrie songs were played in honor of his home state. Well, they were tour standards, but the home state was acknowledged. The last Woody song was also the last song of the night; another "Hoodoo Voodoo" closer. Only, this time, crew member Josh busted out the cowbell and went to town. Dear lord. Typically he stays toward the back near the drums when he joins in, but on Sunday he went all out: getting down with Pat, dancing up to Jeff. It was funny, entertaining, and disturbingly erotic. I now know more than one lady who's interested in finding out if Josh is available for parties. Kudos to him, and the band, for ending the night - and the short tour - on a high note.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Tired and wired

Last Tuesday, just two days after the big basement show weekend of 2011, I saw the National in Milwaukee. When the band announced a headlining gig at the Riverside in the midst of their tour supporting the Arcade Fire, I couldn't have been more pleased. Ever since their show last year at the Orpheum, after the Obama rally, I've wanted to see another National performance ... preferably one without a 7-foot tall stage, or a crowd that filled all of Library Mall. The Riverside was the opportunity I'd been awaiting.

Right from the start, everything seemed to fall into place. I had the day off, so I was able to get to town, walk around, have lunch, and get in line at my leisure. I met some friends, and we got excellent spots right up front. Both opening bands (The Pains of Being Pure at Heart and Twin Shadow) were good. They'd originally been scheduled for their own double bill at Turner Hall, before signing on as openers for this gig.

The National put on an excellent performance, full of intense songs and amusing banter in between. They won over most of the audience even before the show started, when drummer Bryan Devendorf came out during the set change to artfully arrange seven John Axford bobbleheads amongst the gear. When half the band took the stage in Brewers hats (someone was even swinging a bat), the crowd was theirs. I'm a complete sucker for bands with Brewers swag. Successful pandering! Wisconsin pride!

As Matt Berninger commented during the show, they did put together a pretty bleak setlist for Milwaukee. "We do have some happy songs. Honest." I enjoyed everything, though, and the upbeat songs were even more welcome in contrast. Unlike the Orpheum, where he may have been daunted by the tall stage, Matt had no qualms about entering the crowd at the Riverside. He left the stage during no fewer than three different songs - though he joked that he'd used the first as an opportunity to remove the bunchy boxers that were a present from his mother-in-law. Matt was roaming the theater for the entirety of "Terrible Love," and during "Mr. November," he draped himself off the front of the stage, absorbing the frenzied pats and grabs of the audience. Nothing electrifies a crowd like being joined by members of the band.

In a set full of highlights, two songs in particular stood out as highlights of the night for me. The first was the the live debut of "Think You Can Wait," from the soundtrack of the film Win Win.  It's a lovely song, and being part of the first crowd to see it played was a treat. The second was the final song of the night, "Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks," which the entire band played without the PA system from the front of the stage. The audience sang along, and it was the perfect ending for a great night of music.