Monday, December 19, 2011

Maybe you'll rest sometime

Bon Iver at the Orpheum

Over the past ten days, I have seen eight concerts. That's a pretty intense pace even for me, so I find myself both sorry that it's over and relieved to have some free time. It's certainly been a hell of a mid-December.

The Eight Shows of Christmas began on December 9th, when I saw Wilco in Milwaukee. It wasn't long since I last saw the band - they played Madison just two months prior. Despite the primo seats in Madison, I think I enjoyed Milwaukee a little more. The show was loud and featured a fantastic encore bookended by Outta Mind (Outta Site) and Outtasite (Outta Mind) - two versions of the same song, one complete with a "Jingle Bells" outro. Meeting up with friends for my first meal at Mader's and belting out "Who Stole the Kishka" at the Old German Beer Hall before the show set the tone for the night, and the week-plus to come.

Show Two was the next night: Bon Iver at the Orpheum in Madison. It was my first show at the refurbished Orpheum: new lower stage, and the floor seats nearly gone. This was a decidedly different feel from the small pit/seven-foot-stage Orpheum with which I was familiar. As far as I'm concerned, the changes are all to the good. Once again this was a sort of homecoming for the band; their first show back in Wisconsin since the tour began. The Madison show was sandwiched between Bon Iver playing the UIC Pavilion in Chicago, and two more arena shows in Eau Claire. Seeing the band in a relatively intimate theater, on the heels of four Grammy nominations, was a wonderful opportunity. The setlist wasn't markedly different from the shows I saw at the Riverside this summer, but the 9-piece band's songs seemed looser and less mathematically precise. There was more give and take. The version of "Blood Bank" that this lineup plays has become my favorite song to hear live, and the Madison performance absolutely delivered. The solo "Re:Stacks" felt more emotionally naked than ever, and we were close enough to see every detail.

Show Three was the following night: Ryan Adams at the Cadillac Palace in Chicago. I hadn't seen a Ryan Adams show since 2007 at the Barrymore, and the setting was quite different. 2007 was in a 900-capacity general admission theater, and 2011 was in a 2300-capacity opera house. Ryan was solo this time, and cycled between two guitar stations and a piano. He spent most of the show sitting, and even the "fast" album songs he played were reworked into slower, softer arrangements. He also talked to the audience - a lot. Possibly too much. My favorite parts of the show were old favorites like "Sylvia Plath" and "Come Pick Me Up," and the two improvised songs about the evening that Ryan composed in situ.

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