25 September 2007

Sometimes It Takes A While

After many sharp words from a few all-too-loyal readers (I have readers? Still? Really?), I'm right back. I'm ready to go. So let's proceed.

Mrs. Upto12 made Father's Day a good one this year. She showered me with gifts and undue praise — coming through with the double winner: tickets to see Wilco at the Greek Theatre in Berkeley on August 24 and tickets to a Giants game the following day. A weekend in San Francisco. Sans kids. That's really all I need to say.

After spending most of a day wandering through the shops and streets of Berkeley (on the opening weekend of classes at Cal, no less), we made our way to the venue. I guaranteed that we arrived early and had our pick of standing places. Mrs. Upto12 graciously settled for an awful, soggy $7 chicken sandwich instead of the finer California cuisine she'd be craving all afternoon. And we were set.

The stage sits high at the Greek. So high that standing directly in front of the stage can seriously limit your sightlines. With that in mind, we opted for a stage-right perch just three steps up the amphitheatre. The band stood eye-level and we couldn't have been more than 35 feet from the stage.

Our perch, the rest of the crowd:
I won't waste time on the opening act, Richard Swift. He was adequate. I've heard some of his recorded material and thought the same thing ("adequate"). I wasn't severely disappointed. I wasn't incredibly impressed. He played his songs. The audience applauded. And we all hoped that the slight drizzle would remain just that, sparing us the downpour that threatened.

Soon enough, Mr. Swift was done, his gear was cleared and the Greek slowly filled to capacity. And just as darkness settled, the boys from Chicago took the stage. I'm tempted here to drift into a song-by-song review. It's all in my memory, burned there along with too much secondhand smoke (of the legal and illegal varieties, I'm afraid). But I think a few passing thoughts will suffice.

Opening with the first two tracks on Sky Blue Sky ("Either Way" and "You Are My Face"), Wilco banished every incoherent Eagles comparison that's been hastily slapped together in the last year. Wilco is not, has never been and will never be similar to the Eagles. Sky Blue Sky is not "the best album the Eagles never made." Let's get this all out of our collective minds. The Eagles are, were and always will be incapable of the kind of work Wilco has aspired to. Frankly, I don't care for the Eagles one bit. I hate "Hotel California." I think "Desperado" is a lousy, derivative country track. And I think Don Henley's a hack. Perhaps I'm immature and unable to comprehend the greatness of the Eagles... but after hearing Wilco perform just two songs, I think you'd feel the same way.

Tweedy and Cline:
Each member of Wilco is a professional. But not a steady, stable, evenhanded studio-musician-type. These are experimental professionals. Men who have mastered the art of structural and musical improvisation. They're not avoid to tear a song apart and pick up the pieces at a moment's notice. Jeff Tweedy continues his pace as the finest songwriter of this generation. Nels Cline is a madman and he was in rare form, kicking and jumping and inspiring shrugs and giddy grins from Jeff and John. Glenn Kotche astounds with every rhythmic jump and his ability to create the percussive brilliance of five or six men. John Stirratt holds the whole show together with a steady bassline and careful harmonies. And Mikael and Pat, well, I'm not sure exactly what they do, but they do it well. Working knobs and laptops and keyboards and guitars and every other bit of rock paraphernalia you could imagine.

The band is simply impressive, covering tracks from every era of Tweedy's catalog. They even dipped into A.M. territory for "Too Far Apart"... a move even I didn't expect. The sound was dead-on and tracks from the newer albums (especially those from Sky Blue Sky) hit my ears like never before. That may be the best argument for the canonization of a band like Wilco — their live shows make you a fan of everything they play. You never leave a Wilco show thinking, "Hunh. That was good. But that one song sounds a lot better on the album." You could argue the absolute inverse, in fact. You leave, shaking your head, anxious to dig right back into every album — looking for the nooks and crannies that the band takes every opportunity to explore and exploit.

I've seen Wilco five times now. More than I've seen any other single band. And I'd go see them again tonight, wherever they're playing. There's a bit of nostalgia involved, I imagine. Wilco reminds me of some good days. Living in Provo, my friend, Chris, and I happened upon a copy of Being There and we were hooked. And Wilco is one of the first bands I had a jump on. I was down with Wilco before the world was. And that makes me proud (and snobby, I know).

All of this said, I love this band. Jeff Tweedy writes songs that hit me in ways that others simply can't. And seeing Wilco live is about as close to a perfect musical experience as I can imagine. No matter what Jeff Tweedy says on the "Shake It Up" promo video (with the deluxe edition Sky Blue Sky) this is not a good band singing and playing some nice songs. This is a great band, singing and playing difficult songs, beautiful songs, some of the only songs that matter.

The whole crew:

And now, the multimedia. But first, a disclaimer:
I'm still figuring out the movie feature on our new digital camera, so please forgive the shakiness...and don't expect more than a minute or two from me...I'm just can't seem handle more than that. I've usually got to get back to shaking myself in some non-rhythmic fashion.

"You Are My Face"

"Impossible Germany"

"California Stars"

1 comment:

kake said...

now you're writing doug-long entries? pace yourself, matt. slow and steady wins the race.