I remember the exact date that my history with Wilco started. It was November 3, 1997 at the Granada Theatre in Lawrence, KS. My friend (and main concert promoter in town) Jacki Becker called me up that afternoon and asked if I would mind helping work security for a Wilco concert that evening. Jacki called me somewhat often to guard doors at bigger shows, and paid me in free concerts of some of my favorite bands. In my barely-21-year-old brain at the time, Wilco was a band for post-collegiate bros with backwards baseball caps, whose taste for live music had dwindled alongside their taste for beer (I seem to remember a lot of Miller Lite hovering around that scene). I hemmed and hawed and finally agreed, mainly because I had nothing else to do that night and all of my friends were busy. If nothing else, the story about the godawful band I saw the night before would be worth retelling the next day.
My part in this crack squad of security volunteers was usually to make sure people didn't sneak backstage or climb onstage. Simple, boring, easy enough to watch the show as it was happening. This time, however, I was thrust into a different role. My job for the evening? Stand in the front row, center, directly in front of Jeff Tweedy. Keep those rowdy, husky, Miller Lite sluggin' bros off the stage. Most importantly, Jeff was to stage-dive during one song in the set, and I was instructed to leap onto the stage and make sure his guitar cable didn't get yanked on or tangled up in the mass of adoring hands. (I'm still convinced Jacki put me there to get me to fall in love with Wilco.)
I watched Jeff and the Being There-era iteration of Wilco come out onto the stage and likely grumbled under my breath about being stuck watching this alt-country band play a 75 minute set full of sleepers. Not five minutes after the first chords of "Misunderstood" were strummed, I was slackjawed (likely with a mouthful of crow) and unable to deny the perfect blend of melody and atmospherics that Wilco were perfecting on Being There. Later in the set, Tweedy crowdsurfed, I kept his guitar cable from getting stolen, and I patted his butt back onto the stage post-solo. I remember the show wrapping up with a cover of Led Zeppelin's "The Immigrant Song" complete with a deli tray full of processed meats being tossed into the crowd. I was sold.
Seeing a band that is undoubtedly hitting their creative stride is a really powerful thing. While you can't listen to Unknown Mortal Orchestra's two records and hear a band struggling with anything, their last spin through town was a bit lackluster. While the Portland trio had a small lineup change (drummer Julian Erhlich has been replaced with Riley Geare), that change (along with a year and a half of recording/touring/general band growth) has helped propel the band's live experience from hit-and-miss wallflowers to confident psychedelic shamans, capable of sudden dive-bomb instrumental passages that turn the bop-along pop compositions of their recordings into full on heady freakouts.
Describing Madonna's current tour in a set amount of words is a lot like being asked to explain your life story in detail to a total stranger in under a minute. There are so many moments of beautiful minutiae that are going to be glossed over in recapping it that it almost seems fruitless from the start. Madonna's 135 minute set was a master class in the art of professional presentation, and there wasn't a second of it that didn't feel packed to the edges with the sort of meticulous attention to detail that it feels tragic to overlook. Keeping that in mind, here I go, trying to explain what I saw in the 135 minutes I spent with Madonna at Key Arena on Tuesday night.
Madonna has always been an intense aggregator of pop culture. Some would call her a trendsetter or pioneer; others would liken her to wearing culture as a costume. Whatever side of that fence you sit on, it's impossible to deny the woman's broad grasp of influences, and seeing all of this in a concentrated, back-to-back experience was intensely inspiring and simultaneously jarring.
Less than 24 hours after seeing Jane's Addiction relive the skeezy early 90s of the Hollywood strip on the Key Arena stage, I found myself watching Tony Bennett put on a polar opposite of a set on the same stage. Argue all you will about the inconsistencies of the lineup, but that weird contrast is exactly what makes a festival like Bumbershoot special. Seeing a hushed, respectful audience fall to a dead silence mid-afternoon for a set from an 86 year old legend was reaffirming that a modern day audience can have fun and put their phones down for a second to enjoy classic moments.
Speaking of classic, let's talk about classic terrible behavior. I had a guy in front of me snapping shots of Bennett's set with his iPad. Quick rant: no one looks more ridiculous and foolish than a person at a concert holding up their iPad to take the same crappy photos that their iPhone takes. (Actually, the iPad takes 5mp photos and the iPhone takes 8mp photos, if you've got the newest stuff, which I'm sure you do.) So, c'mon people. Do every single one of us a favor and leave the iPad at home during a concert, please? Next one I see at a show, I'm "accidentally" spilling a drink on it. Knock it off.
Sometimes a little mystery goes a long way. Enigmatic almost to a fault, Black Moth Super Rainbow exist in a very unique space that they've created and that they control. The band has performed in masks, crouched and obscured from crowd view, and purposefully avoided interviews and general limelight. Their sound is something of an old science film soundtrack (at least if you were born in the 70's; I have no idea how much science film soundtracks changed in the past couple decades) strained at times through dreamy or creepy elements. Walls of analog keyboards and singer Tobacco's constantly vocoder-ed out vocals are the foundation of the Black Moth Super Rainbow sound.
From a character standpoint, Josh Tillman's transformation from somber and quiet solo artist (and drummer of the Fleet Foxes) into the overblown braggadocio of Father John Misty is quite a stretch. On record, all of his work has some foundational similarities; with Misty, personality comes to the forefront. Assuming the role of the somewhat-fictional Father John Misty, Tillman has given himself license to be freed from the constraints of the sensitive, castrated modern day folk singer. Misty is a lascivious, cantankerous character whose debaucherous tales of womanizing and drunken blackouts are a far cry from the Fleet Foxes' plaintive cries to pick apples all the live long day. It's a bit of a Will Rogers meets Hugh Hefner character, balancing witty anecdotes on human nature with an unapologetic raging hard on.
In a world full of far too many immediate entertainment options, it's a given that some brilliance is going to fall through the cracks. Granted, the deck was a little stacked on Saturday night; Seattle snapped out of drizzly misery for a day of sunshine, and the city's concert calendar was stocked with heavyweights like Nada Surf, Of Montreal/Deerhoof, and I suppose the argument could be stretched out in En Vogue's direction (no offense, En Vogue) for stealing away some potential concertgoers. Whatever the case, Chop Suey had more than enough elbow room for a show that should've sold out a room twice that size.
Bahamas' opening set was stripped down even more than their normal guitar/backing vocals/drums setup, as drummer Jason Tait (of The Weakerthans) was back home with a newborn child. Main Bahamanian Afie Jurvanen didn't seem phased a bit by the lack of percussion, and the stark nature of Jurvanen's sparkly Silvertone guitar, soulful voice, and duo of heavenly backup singers made his songs fill every empty space in the club with warmth. While many artists present acoustic/stripped down sets that sputter from lack of driving elements, Bahamas' bare bones set showcased the no punches pulled honesty and dry wit of Jurvanen's songs.
"Oh, he's very popular. The sportos, the motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, waistoids, dweebs...they all adore him. They think he's a righteous dude." - Grace the secretary, Ferris Bueller's Day Off.
If there's anyone on Earth today who embodies the "live in the moment" mentality of fun-loving pied piper Ferris Bueller, it's Andrew Wilkes Krier. Existing as one of those "so simple it's brilliant" things in life, Andrew W.K. is here to party, have fun, get wet, get wasted, and you truly have no choice as to whether you'll join this train or not.
It's hard to believe anyone would ever listen to Philadelphia sextet Dr. Dog's schizophrenic hodge-podge of a debut album (2001's Psychedelic Swamp) and have any sort of mind's-eye glimpse of the same band a decade later, functioning as a colorful, well-oiled classic pop machine and filling Seattle's Neptune Theatre on Valentine's Day. While you could definitely hear some of the band's early tendencies toward the haunting and creepy in the atmospheric corners of the mix, it was the band's propensity toward pure, unbridled sunshine that shone through and seemingly powered the Neptune.