Sunday, July 31, 2011

Ocean update

A few months ago, I wrote about how much I missed the ocean. This week, I do something about it.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

You're in Milwaukee, off your feet

But before I was in Milwaukee, I was home for Gillian Welch's Thursday night visit to the Capitol Theatre. As always, Gillian was joined by partner Dave Rawlings, for what turned out to be a memorable night of music in Madison. Gill and Dave are an interesting case for me: I've seen and thoroughly enjoyed them twice headlining (and seen Dave more than that, with other musicians), but somehow haven't gotten into their recorded output yet. No matter. Their voices intertwined beautifully on the Capitol stage, and I needn't have known even the handful of songs I recognized to be enthralled. From the boisterous "Six White Horses" to the haunting "Long Black Veil" (performed at the front of the stage without amplification), the crowd hung on every word. The audience was both respectful and enthusiastic, a fact that wasn't lost on the musicians. "We should play Madison more often," Gillian said toward the end of the night. I know Madison agrees.

Dave Rawlings and Gillian Welch

Up next were Bon Iver and the Rosebuds at the Riverside in Milwaukee, Friday and Saturday nights. These were the first shows of the supporting tour for Bon Iver, Bon Iver, and the first concerts Bon Iver had played at all since October 2009 in the very same theater. My, how they've grown. They're bigger in media stature: since Bon Iver last toured, Justin Vernon has worked on various side projects including a high-profile collaboration with Kanye West. And they're bigger in sheer numbers: the band that took the stage in Milwaukee was a nine-piece. These musicians brought the instrumentally complex songs of Bon Iver, Bon Iver to life in a most powerful way, and gave a shot of adrenaline to older numbers. I was blown away by "Blood Bank," but only after listening to the EP version this morning did I realize how much the new arrangement added to an already great song. Not every old song was embellished, though. An emotional high point of each night was Justin Vernon on stage alone with his guitar, singing "Re: Stacks."

Re: Stacks

Friday and Saturday's shows were both wonderful, but in a flip of the usual "second night is always better" concert rule, I have to give the edge to Friday. Nothing to do with the performances, but the first-show electricity and revelation of each new song would be hard to top. Wisconsin pride over the home-state heroes was palpable in Milwaukee, made concrete with Mayor Tom Barrett's declaration of Friday July 22nd as Bon Iver Day. Before the band came out that night, Assistant City Attorney Tom Gartner (who happens to be Justin Vernon's godfather) came onstage to read the official proclamation. On Saturday night Justin seemed relaxed, goofing around with the crowd, but on Friday night he had a hard time finding the words to say anything but a version of "thank you" between songs. The feeling was mutual.

Bon Iver

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Trees held us in on all four sides

Through the trees

Being a lifelong resident of Wisconsin, it's hard to believe I hadn't made it to Door County before last weekend. As is so often the case, what finally spurred me to make my way into the thumb of the mitten was a concert. Combined, that is, with good friends and the prospects of tasty regional treats and pretty scenery. I wasn't disappointed on any count.

Fish boil:

Fish Boil, Pelletier's

It's a Door County tradition: fun to watch and fun to eat! The picture shows the "boil over" conflagration, but cannot capture how brow-singeingly hot it was right there for ten or fifteen seconds. Yow.


View from Eagle Tower
Dusk at Fish Creek Beach

Door County - Fish Creek in particular - is lovely country. We hiked in the woods, traversed the downtown area, climbed a rickety 75-foot tower in Peninsula State Park, visited a lighthouse, and enjoyed various views of a calm, blue Lake Michigan.


Jeff Tweedy, sold out

Jeff Tweedy in Fish Creek wasn't something I was likely to miss. In keeping with the casual weekend getaway atmosphere, the whole show felt laid-back and relaxed. Banter flowed more freely than usual, and we got to hear a total of four new songs in solo form. Between the Vic shows earlier this year and our basement show, I'd heard two of them before, but "Dawned On Me" and "Open Mind" were both first-timers. (I picked up shades of Madonna in the rhythm of the former's solo verses, but nobody else seemed to share that particular association.) The showpiece of the night was an eerie, intense version of "Bull Black Nova." Sometimes the unlikeliest acoustic songs are revelations.

All that, plus more cherries than you can shake a stick at. Door County, I'll be back!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

I'll see you again

One Tree Hill

Tuesday night's show at Soldier Field in Chicago marked the longest elapsed time between my purchase and use of a concert ticket: because of the 2010 show's rescheduling, I bought this ticket in November of 2009. At the time, I managed to pull up a GA ticket after 20 minutes of fruitless refreshing on Ticketmaster. I was thrilled, envisioning one last major line wait for my U2 concert-going resume. I wanted to do the crazy line thing one more time.

A year and a half later, the day finally came around. July 5th, 2011 instead of July 6th, 2010. And as it turned out, with the show coming on the heels of a major weekend of shows and a holiday, I just didn't have it in me to show up the night before and wait in line. So came a major first for me and U2: I had a general admission ticket, and I showed up after gates had opened. I know! It's like I hardly know me!

As it turned out, I didn't wind up in a bad spot. I was about ten rows back from the outside ramp, on the Edge side. Really, not too different from a seat on the side of the stadium, except closer. (Though without the option to sit down, which admittedly would have been nice after about five hours in the heat and humidity.)

U2 took the stage around 8:50. They started off with four songs from Achtung Baby and a snippet of "Tryin' to Throw Your Arms Around the World." Those were joined later by "One," prompting Bono to claim they'd played a whole side of Achtung. "Well, almost a whole side." In addition the usual suspects, the band also dusted off nuggets like "Out of Control" and "Zooropa." This was my first time seeing "Zooropa" live. That, plus an acoustic Bono and Edge version of "Stay," comprised a welcome duo of Zooropa songs. In my opinion, one of the best U2 albums.

As the concert drew to a close I'd had a very good time, but decided that there hadn't been any huge surprises in the setlist. Not having looked at any setlists prior to the show, I wasn't even sure what I'd consider a huge surprise. That is, I wasn't sure until Bono started saying his thank you's at the end of the night. He mentioned that the twenty-fifth anniversary of band friend Greg Carroll's death had been a few days before, and that they'd written a song for him. My brain at that point: "OH MY GOD."

One disadvantage of not standing up front among the crazy fans was that I was the only person in my immediate vicinity who understood what might be coming: "One Tree Hill." A song I never dreamed I'd hear live. I knew only that the band had played it in New Zealand (and Chile) a few years ago. Of course, Bono dashed my hopes right away as he sensed what at least some of the crowd as thinking. He smiled and added, "We're not going to play it tonight." A few moments' pause. "Well, maybe we are going to play it." He turned to the band. "Are we going to play it?" Back to the crowd. "Let me check with the professor." Bono conferred with The Edge for a minute, and came back to the microphone. "Well, we'll play 'Moment of Surrender' and let them figure it out down below."

The band launched into their usual closing number, which was very pretty, but I was utterly distracted. They couldn't tease us with the possibility of "One Tree Hill" and then not play it, could they? At least try to play it? After "Moment of Surrender," there was more onstage conferring. Finally Bono came back to the microphone. "Here's the deal," he said. "If we screw up really badly, you can't put it on the internet." OH MY GOD. After a couple of false beginnings (Bono: "How does it start?"), Edge got the chiming guitar riff going. Holy shit. "One Tree Hill." I visited One Tree Hill in 2008. I wrote a report about "One Tree Hill" in the eleventh grade. And now I've heard "One Tree Hill" in concert. The U2 setlist websites were happy to provide the statistics: first time the whole song has been played in North America since 1987. For me, it made the night.

Next time U2 comes around, I'm hoping it will be to somewhere a little smaller than a stadium. And I think I'd still be up for one more crazy GA line wait, since I took a pass on this one. I can't wait to see what the band comes up with next ... but I'm there.

Friday, July 1, 2011

The rain applauds

Restricted Area

Last weekend, my friends and I (and more than 6,000 others) swarmed the Berkshires for the second annual Wilco-curated Solid Sound Festival. Despite some rain, we had a blast. Here are some of my favorite memories of Solid Sound 2011:

  • Wandering over to MASS MoCA on Thursday, hearing a bit of soundcheck, and climbing up into the "All Utopias Fell" exhibit overlooking the grounds. Being able to explore the deserted Airstream trailer in the company of friends, lounging around and spinning tunes, was the best (pre)fest kickoff I could have hoped for.
  • Playing giant instruments in the Wunderments gallery
  • After a power surge briefly knocked out the stage lights and sound on Friday night, the swell of the audience filling in the missing lines of "Radio Cure": "Oh, distance has no way of making love understandable."
  • Neil Finn joining Wilco for a cover of Split Enz's "I Got You" on the heels of Wilco's own "I Got You." This is something my friends and I have long dreamed of, and when it happened we were beside ourselves. I hope at least some of the performers on stage heard the frenzy of shrieking excitement coming from our corner, as well as the raucous singalong. Well, maybe I don't hope for that last part.
  • Late-night samosas from Samosaman!
  • The Handsome Family performing "So Much Wine," in Courtyard C
  • Jeff Tweedy dunking both of his sons in the dunk tank ... numerous times
  • The artisanal pencil sharpening of David Rees
  • Free bags of chips and Garrett's popcorn
  • Taking part in Rob's poncho rainbow photo shoot in between showers on Saturday
  • Holding up a $3.50 tarp from the Family Dollar during a torrential downpour on Saturday evening, snug and dry and belting out song hooks and choruses for forty minutes.
  • Picture with John Hodgman (proving that Evonne is a master of predictions)
    • Seeing a Glenn Kotche solo performance for the first time in years, with the added bonus of complementary background videos. I've missed "Monkey Chant"!
    • Liam Finn's sans-microphone pop-up performance in the Nari Ward gallery, among giant orange foam snowmen
    • Pronto synththily covering the wonderful "Paris 1919" by John Cale
    • Watching Thurston Moore and Nels Cline play with such intensity as Pillow Wand. (Which, incidentally, some of us think would make a good name for a vibrator.)
    • Relaxing in the sun for Levon Helm's festival-closing set, singing along as the huge ensemble performed "I Shall Be Released" and "The Weight"
    • Escaping to Williamstown for a wonderful Sunday night dinner at a new restaurant that hasn't had its official opening yet
    • Witnessing body shots at the Artery
    • The leisurely time eating and drinking and talking in the Albany Airport wine bar on Monday evening as friends drifted away one by one (or two by two) for their flights
    Solid Sound 2011

    Solid Sound 2011

    Liam Finn

    Solid Sound 2012, you're on.

    Solid Sound 2011