Review: Wilco @ The Wellmont Theater

Sure, it might be unfair for me to write anything about Wilco, I’ve seen the band many times, and usually have some type of superlative to describe it.  Well, this time will be no exception, though I do believe this particular show has set the bar higher in some degrees than I could have imagined.  Lets just come right out and say it, the set was 3 hours long with no break, 37 songs were played, with an acoustic set in the middle.  Seriously, top that….anyone?

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The Wellmont is Bowery Presents newest venue, in the unlikely location of Montclair NJ.  Home to Montclair State University, former home of the Bloomfield ave Cafe, and rumored home of Stephen Colbert.  That really all I can say about this town, lets keep moving.  My previous experience at this venue was to see Ray Lamontagne, a flawless musical performance, yet a mess of a crowd.  Lots of Frat Dudes yelling out songs, general rudeness.  But the sound….yeah, the room was built for that type of music.  It looks like the Beacon Theater, but doesn’t sound all boomy and terrible.   Wilco though in recent years has been primarily a blaring electric monster truck of fury, sometimes including an acoustic guitar, but not so much centered around it.  So I was interested to see what would happen in this room.

They removed the seats from the orchestra, so it felt like a more traditional rock show, and Wilco pretty much had 6 bands worth of gear on the stage.  It was mildly hilarious.  2 full keyboard rigs, probably 30 guitars on the wings of the stage, tons of amps, tables full of effects pedals, dream-theater-esque acrylic drum kit complete with a full orchestral gong, there was not much joking around.  This tour it was announced there would be no opener, and was billed as “an evening with”  so I guess they pulled out all the stops.

check out the SG Jr/Special/whatever it is!
check out the SG Jr/Special/whatever it is!

The show began with the microsoft computer voice giving instructions not to take photos, but to please exhibit general merriment.  I really do wonder what this was about.  Further in the show, Jeff Tweedy even called out some guy for taking pictures…I can understand sans flash, but they were completely anti-photography.  Im guessing he’s feeling self conscious in his old age.  Anyhoo, the computer voice made a reappearance, announcing each band member during the breakdown of “Wilco The Song”  which confused and delighted pretty much everyone.

I took this off flickr, I didnt take it, relax Tweedy.
I took this off flickr, I didnt take it, relax Tweedy.

The set chugged along with the standard electric Wilco classics, lots of Sky Blue Sky, at one point Tweedy also called out someone for requesting “Impossible Germany” when giving out a free dinner…yeah, i don’t know, they gave out 2 free dinners.  Anyway, he was all “way to waste a request dude, like we weren’t gonna play that one?”  So it was standard electric fare.  Midway through though, during a particularly noisy outro to “poor Places”  The crew came out with an entire 2nd set of instruments, mini drum kit, 2 more keyboards, upright bass, new acoustic guitars, complete with old school living room style lamps, and set up as the band faded down.  Without so much as a breath, they went into the most mentally refreshing version of “Spiders” I have ever heard.  Occasionally when done electric, it gets a bit stale, with 14 minutes of noise rock jamming, it gets to be a little much.  They changed some of the chords, toned it waaaaay down, and let the song itself come out.  Several Bro Dudes behind me commented how it was a waste of a song…whatever, go see nickleback.  Spiders was followed by “More Like The Moon”  a buried gem from the Yankee Hotel Foxtrot outtake sessions which was never released.  Let me just say, as fanatic as I am, there are a few songs I have never heard performed, and this was one.  I think the whole crowd was in the same boat, you could hear a pin drop.  I dont even know what to say, it was fucking beautiful.  Lets just move on, Im getting too emotional.  You just couldn’t stop this acoustic set.  “Forget The Flowers”, followed by “Someday Some Morning Sometime” followed by a kick ass “Laminated Cat” as true to the original as possible, complete with the modular synth making some buzz type sounds.  They closed it out with “Airline to Heaven”  in the same fashion…the song started, the crew pulled off all the gear, and the band went into full on electric mode. Impressive.

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There was no stopping this set, it just went on forever!  I mean, I truly enjoyed every minute of it, but the friends I went with did not enjoy it so much.  If you aren’t familiar with a band, you dont want to be repeatedly smacked in the face by them for 3 hours.  1 hour, sure, but 3 can get excessive.  They took no set break either.  What was that Phish?  Yeah, thats what I thought.  A friend also commented that Tweedy didn’t even take a sip of water the entire show, and I think this is true.  He had some type of big denim jacket on, he just fucking blasted through every song.  I’ve been trying to figure out the psychology behind this.  They have fanatical fans who love everything they do, so it’s not like they have anything to prove, they’re a very widely respected independent band.  All I can think of, is that they really just want to play a ton of music.  If you were at their stage of career, wouldn’t you too?  I mean, in an ideal world, where you’re not jaded by the industry or whatever, its just about playing every night, and I have endless respect for that.  Its like in that documentary from last year “It Might Get Loud”  with Jimmy Page and The Edge.  Even at their age and level of success, particularly with Page, you could just see that he loved every minute of playing, like a kid.  Is Wilco Led Zeppelin?  Yes.  Really?  Sure, why not?  Just deal with it already, ok?  This is my blog, you’re going to have to go along with whatever shenanigans I pull here, its in the user agreement.

Review: Sondre Lerche @ City Winery

My introduction to Sondre Lerche was unexpected, sort of a reverse hierarchy of a typical new music discovery. I went to Maxwells, the greatest music venue in our solar system, to see Dan Wilson who was opening the show. I figured, why not stick arounnd for the headliner. The set Sondre performed was the most aggressive guy-with-a-guitar performance I had seen up until that point. Full on solo electric guitar, bouncing and gyrating all over the place, as if he were backed by a The Clash, yet filled with delicate melodies. This, I was down with.

Several years and shows later, he has rarely disappointed. I don’t know why more artists dont take this approach – solo electric guitar. You see a guy on stage with an acoustic, and you pretty much imagine what you’re going to get, with rare exceptions. But seeing a guy plugged in with no band, it really keeps you guessing. I’ve seen Ted Leo do this, and he does in fact deliver, but no one else comes to mind. One consistent thing Sondre has going for him is his use of weird Brazilian/Jazz chords all over the place. You rarely hear some simple standard voiced open chord, he’s throwing in major 7ths, augmented 9ths, triumphant 14ths, and so forth. I heard somewhere that he started out listening to Jobim, and that would explain everything. I’ve often wished there were an album of jobim standards played on solo jazz guitar by some master, if Wes Montgomery were still alive, maybe Jim Hall back in the day, hell, I would trust Marc Ribot to do it. That album would win an Oscar. I dont care if there’s no visual accompaniment, it would work. But we’ve gotten off track.

notice the wine barrells as the backdrop
notice the wine barrells as the backdrop

Last week, the show was at City Winery, a relatively new venue downtown, with all good intentions. The space is very cool, good stage and sound, and they actually make wine, so there’s all sorts of barrells and whatnot lying about. Their one downfall is that they seem to want to run it like a restaurant, while everyone is in attendance to see a show. They reserve your seats at big long tables, where its easy to get confused or miscalculate. I was at their first sold out show last year – Medeski Martin & Wood, and it was a straight up clusterfuck. No one knew what was going on, and it took foreverrrrr to get seated. On this particualr evening, there was a seating mishap, which they rectified by giving us some delicious wine, so pretty much, im ok with it. City Winery, we’re still friends.

Sondre appeared on stage in his usual fashion, I would say like a lightning bolt, but he’s a tiny dude, so let’s say more like a static shock that really catches you by surprise. He wasted no time, and came out swinging. He played some new hits, opening with Good Luck off the album of the same title, and Heartbeat Radio, one of his finer recent songs. Before the release of the Good Luck album, he had an EP, called the Polaroid Pumpkin Party EP, only sold at shows, which included a few songs off the Good Luck album, done solo acoustic. I preferred these to the produced versions, so its always nice to hear them performed live in this fashion.

Some rousing versions of Sleep On Needles and Dead Passengers, spiced up with some delay and distortion had everyone feeling good. He pulled out a Big Star cover in tribute to Alex Chilton, and even Im A Boy by The Who. My favorite cover of all time, though, was absent. On the Dan In Real Life soundtrack, he does a kick ass jazz version of Elvis Costello’s Human Hands, which I believe even surpasses the original. Want as I may, I will never…ever…be the dude who calls out a request. Its just not my thing, and this point was only hammered in by the table behind us. A group of maybe 10, well dressed peolpe on appearance, but as soon as the wine began to flow, they became “Bro Dudes” immediately, and there was no turning back. The line was so crossed by one request. During a quiet moment, Broseph yelled out “Yo! Play Tragic Mirror Bro!” Yeah. He called the Norwegian on stage bro. And did it while requesting a song called “Tragic Mirror”. I don’t even know where to go with this. Its not like he was gonna play “Ants Marching” Lets imagine this is some other contexts. “Don’t Think Twice, Its Alright Bro!” “My Heart Will Go On, Bro!” “Candle In The Wind, Bro!” “Times They Are A Changin, Bro!” I think this would apply to every Dylan song though. Lets not get too deep, or I might burst into tears.

Sondre 2

My one request, non show oriented For Son Lerch (like Ton Loc) is for the next record. OK bro, here’s what we gotta do. Go into the studio, bring the big ass Gretsch Hollowbody, get a really great sounding amp, at some big studio with a really old school reverb chamber and maybe a tape delay. Hell, go to Abbey Road. Plug in, roll tape, and play 13 songs, no overdubs, no band, just go for it. Have you ever heard Elvis’ recording of Blue Moon? It will be like that. Throw any Jobim tune on there, and that shit might even win an oscar. Listen to me Sondre, I have your best interest in mind here.

Also, just for the hell of it, here is the smallest recording setup in history.  Cigarette amp, trash found delay pedal, Sennheiser e609, tuner.

Cigarette Amp