Tuesday, October 25, 2011

When October rolls around

I saw Rhett Miller at the High Noon Saloon on Friday night. As usual, he played an entertaining show. There were Madison-related anecdotes - playing at der Rathskellar with Jon Langford, writing a song in a Madison hotel room while looking out the window at the capitol. Rhett played a pretty extensive set, too. He originally had two dozen songs on the setlist, but pointed out at some point that he'd already added at least three. Despite forgetting the start of one of the verses of "504," Rhett's efforts to play a "special" song he hadn't played in awhile were appreciated. I enjoy hearing the newer songs, but old favorites like "Over the Cliff" and "Wish the Worst" never disappoint. There's nothing quite like shouting "Success on someone else's terms don't mean a fuckin' thing!" with a rowdy Friday night crowd. The encore brought opener Alex Dezen on stage to join Rhett on the Tom Petty classic "American Girl," an unexpectedly satisfying treat at the end of the night.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Capitol city

Last week I saw Wilco in two capitol cities: Nashville, and my own city of Madison. The Nashville shows over the weekend comprised my second Ryman experience, every bit as good as the first. The old church sounds amazing, even from up front, and soul can be felt in every inch of the room. The Overture is a beautiful theater - downright formal compared to the Ryman, though I've warmed to it as a concert setting in recent months.

Seeing Wilco for the first time since Solid Sound back in June, I was eager to hear songs from the new album in person. Although I've seen a few performed before - solo, duo, and six-piece - that was before I really knew them. Over the course of these three shows I was lucky enough to see all but one. ("Sunloathe," I'll get you eventually.) "Capitol City," which opened the Madison show, was a fun and fitting beginning. "Open Mind" was debuted by a full band on the Ryman stage, also a fitting locale for the most traditional of the Whole Love songs. "Born Alone" soared, and "Art of Almost" fractured and built itself up again.

Then again, it wasn't all about the new songs. The second Ryman show began with "Less Than You Think," one of the most beautiful lyrics Jeff has ever written (in my humble opinion). I think Sunday was the first time I'd seen it played since early 2008, and it gave me goosebumps. "Shouldn't Be Ashamed" and "Box Full of Letters" were also welcome inclusions from A.M. I admit to missing songs from Summerteeth - only "Via Chicago" and "Shot in the Arm" were played over the three shows - but I have faith that they're not gone for good.

Wilco shows wouldn't be complete without the requisite stage banter. In Nashville Jeff's talk mostly centered around the crowds both nights, with a jab or two at the zealous security guards. In Madison, there were sports metaphors and some talk about the Brew Crew, though I can only assume Jeff is sending the team fewer good wishes at the moment against the Cardinals. He also brandished the actual proposal from last year declaring the members of Wilco to be honorary citizens of Madison. "We are home," Jeff proclaimed, reading the following passage:

WHEREAS, Wilco has visited Madison and played concerts here at least thirteen times since 1995 (including a show at Club DeWash in February of 1995); and,
WHEREAS, Jeff Tweedy says of Madison: ‘We really like it here’; and,
WHEREAS, Wisconsinites generally have a love/hate relationship with all things from Illinois but the sold-out show at the Overture Center on February 21, 2010 (sic) had only love for this band from Chicago; and,
WHEREAS, at least one member of the Common Council attended the show and can attest to its excellence; and,
WHEREAS, The Isthmus called Wilco ‘America’s shiniest rock object’; and,
WHEREAS, Duluth, MN may be cool, but we would not want it said that either that fine city or its mayor are cooler than Madison and our mayor (even if Mayor Dave is not sure who Jeff Tweedy is); and...

"I can't wait to whip this out when we get arrested later," Jeff joked.

Neither the Nashville shows nor Madison would have been the same without "36 Inches" and "I Love My Label," which saw the legendary Nick Lowe joining Wilco on stage. Nick's opening sets were terrific, and the happiness of everyone on stage during the collaborations was a joy to behold. Nick will be along again for Wilco's shows in December, including a stop in Milwaukee. I'm looking forward to seeing what else they might have up their sleeves. Seven-man cover of "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding," anyone?

Monday, October 3, 2011

In the city only for awhile

Chicago Theatre marquee

This weekend was a three-shows-in-three-nights deal for me, and it began on Friday night in Chicago with Fleet Foxes. (Fun fact: it was my fourth time at the Chicago Theatre, but two of the four have been for Conan O'Brien.) Fleet Foxes have come a long way since I saw them open for Wilco, and even since I saw them at Metro a couple of years ago. Selling out two shows at the Chicago Theatre is pretty impressive, and the band was up to the task. Although the pauses between songs felt a little long (or maybe just too quiet), the music was all it should be. I only saw Night 1, but the sound was superb and the setlist was thorough. It's hard to be really "varied" when a band has two full-length albums and an EP to its name, but we heard songs from all of them (including the newest record almost in its entirety) plus a new song from Robin Pecknold. It was cool to hear a solo song in the midst of the concert, but I could listen to the harmonies all night.