Sunday, February 5, 2012
I won't ever forget how
Over the last two weeks of January, I did something I hadn't done since early 2010: attended more than a couple Wilco shows in a row. (That weren't held a short drive from my home, that is.) This was an old-school rock tourism run - seven concerts plus a couple of bonus appearances. Admittedly, it was easier than most, since those two weeks were based in exactly two places: a friend's home in Los Angeles and a friend's home in San Francisco. (Based for me, that is. Not the band.) Still, seven shows over nine days takes energy and commitment ... especially when so many are general admission and involve waiting in line for the privilege (and it is) of standing near the front of a theater for five hours. I did manage to do other things besides concerts - we had two weeks in California, after all - but I'll concentrate on the shows here.
On Monday, January 23rd, my friends and I saw Wilco tape an episode of Conan. Later that night, we fulfilled a longstanding dream of seeing Jeff Tweedy at Largo at the Coronet. Perhaps "nearly fulfilled" is a more accurate description, since Jeff didn't actually play any songs. He and Jeff Garlin had a two-and-a-half-hour conversation on stage instead. (This was supposed to happen.) However, after years of a certain friend campaigning on Largo's behalf, it still felt like a big victory. Most importantly, the seeds have now been sown and watered. We can only sit back and wait to see what else might come up.
Tuesday was our first proper show, at the Palladium in Hollywood. The venue reminded me of an elegant old roller rink, if such a thing exists. The show was heavy on the rock, and although the sound wasn't the best, we had a great view. Everyone seemed to be in a fine mood, and I got my first good look at Mikael's "Walt Disney" mustache. Hmm. And as befitted a Hollywood show, we had some good celeb sightings. (Jasons Bateman and Sudeikis.)
Wednesday at the Wiltern in L.A. will probably go down as one of my least-favorite show memories, through no fault of the band's. The corporate greed of Live Nation once again reared its ugly head, with venue lackeys coming out an hour before doors to charge folks $20 for the chance to keep their spots in line. Don't want to pay? Anyone who does pay gets to go inside before you. I've heard of similar programs before, and paid a small fee up front to avoid being screwed, but a surcharge of more than 2/3 the ticket price right before the show? No. Plenty of people capitulated, but we metaphorically told Live Nation and the Wiltern to suck a dick ... even though it meant losing our places in line. Our spots inside weren't bad, if you had no idea what had transpired, but the show was tainted by the whole experience. Nevertheless, once my wrath had mostly subsided (a good version of "Misunderstood" can do wonders), I was able to appreciate the finer points of the show. An all-electric version of "Laminated Cat," for one.
Friday was the last of the Los Angeles shows, at the LA Theater downtown. It's a lovely, ornate old building (the bathrooms are amazing!) and apparently is rarely open. Exactly how Wilco got booked there is a mystery, but it certainly was an experience. We learned, among other things, that Albert Einstein was in the audience for the first-ever performance at the theater. The stage was low, which lent an interesting vibe to a reserved show. The crowd seemed divided in terms of standing versus sitting, until Jeff made a comment that got everyone on their feet. ("I'm not wading into that debate. You know where I stand.") "Less Than You Think" opened the show. It may be my favorite lyrical turn from Jeff, which is saying a lot. (It's almost gone / the night is dissolving / in a cup God lifts to toast the lightning ... sigh.) The acoustic arrangement of "Spiders" was also a welcome addition.
Saturday we were off to the Bay Area and San Jose Civic Auditorium. It was fun being introduced to U's old stomping grounds, even if we didn't have time for pho at the homestead. In SJ I met a couple of Seattle ladies who became fast friends over the next two days. Plus, a reunion with the Sisters McC! Amidst all the friend action was a fun, energetic concert. We benefited from a speaker on the stage in front of us, so openers White Denim came through better than ever. Coincidentally, their set in San Jose was my favorite of those I saw. The sound for Wilco was also crystal clear, all the better to hear Jeff's jokes about the crowd's preshow wine tweets. At the end of the show we learned that Jane Smiley - and her boyfriend - had been in attendance.
Sunday's concert was at the Warfield in San Francisco. Despite sketchy neighborhood surroundings, it was my favorite line wait of the trip. The day was sunny, there were plenty of shops and restaurants nearby, friends were out in force, and the Seattle girls raided Walgreens' supply of colorful camp chairs. If only the neon nipples on the gentleman's club sign behind us had lit up in the dark, the setting would have been perfect. During the show, the band unveiled "Either Way" for the first time in awhile - I'd like to think it was in honor of our SF hostess. The band seemed to be in a playful mood, at least for the second half of the show. Jeff nearly tripped on the guitar cord at the end of "Handshake Drugs." Nels got a brief shoulder massage at the end of "The Lonely 1." Our Sunday night ended quite a bit later, after a visit to a karaoke bar, but some details are better left unreported.
Tuesday found us in Oakland at the Fox Theater. If Sunday was our most pleasant line wait, Tuesday was the chilliest. As luck would have it, there were record high temperatures in Wisconsin that day ... at times it was literally warmer in Madison than it was in Oakland. It was another loose (mood-wise) show, including an synth injection for "Can't Stand It," and tech Josh reprising his centaur-esque shirtless cowbell dance for "Hoodoo Voodoo." A flipping-the-bird incident from LA was revisited, and Jeff had the house lights brought up so that the whole crowd could give the band the finger - captured on film and at least one iPhone from the stage.
Last came Davis, on Wednesday. A seated show at the posh Mondavi Center, which actually sold wine glasses and cheese boards at its gift shop. This was Wilco's first concert in Davis, with what appeared to be a rookie crowd. I can't account for acoustic nuances, but I didn't hear much singing along from my seat. Jeff seemed to be in a baiting mood, not saying anything for almost an hour and then proceeding to rib audience members for a variety of things. (Leaving the front row for the restroom, having the most pens he'd ever seen in one pocket, sitting down, taking pictures in spite of the no-camera policy, not knowing when to clap at the end of "Capitol City," yelling out for "Freebird.") The comments didn't seem to come from a truly angry place - there were also a lot of grins on stage - but a little frustration? Perhaps. About two thirds of the way through the show, the needling finally got the crowd on its feet - where most people remained for the rest of the night - and the mood improved. Davis was the end of the line for me this time. I flew home on Thursday.
After a break of more than two years, was I still up for a multi-show run? The answer is yes. Perhaps I felt the fatigue a bit more than I used to, but I'm not ready to throw in the towel yet. I've realized something else, though: I'd never do this kind of thing if it weren't in the company of good friends. See you next time!