Wilco @ Prospect Park, July 23rd 2012

The phrase “Dad Rock” has become glued to Wilco in recent years. If you know someone’s dad, possibly your own, who fancies themselves not on the cutting edge of music, but close enough to see over the cliff and realize they don’t want to hang out down there, they probably like Wilco.

It’s accurate. Their music is not too controversial, it’s not face punchingly loud, and there are some nice little melodies in there without sounding watered down. Dads and hipsters approaching and over 30, enjoy them some Wilco. Call the music what you want, personally, I am a Tweedy Enthusiast.The band is on a little New York run this week, and we attended the opening night at Prospect Park. I’m not going to give you a full show rundown, but I would like to discuss a crowd incident we witnessed which brought the whole concept together.

Prospect-Park-Bandshell

Prospect park is a lovely venue, plenty of lawn space, even when it’s crowded, its not unbearable. You get there early, stake out a spot, maybe eat some turkey avocado sandwiches from Union Market. Compare tote bags with the crowd around you, stuff like that. We got an atypical spot at the front of the lawn, figuring everyone would just stand up when the show started, we don’t need to picnic for hours on a Monday evening. We were right. You know who wasn’t right? The forty something dad who perched in front of us about 1 foot from the concrete walkway.

While the opener Lee Fields was on, we were enjoying the aforementioned sandwiches, having a wonderful evening. Suddenly, out of the the crowd walked said dad, lets call him Dennis. Let’s imagine his wife calls him Den. Dennis stood there nervously, trying to guard a space that was way too big for one person, on a highly traffic-ed piece of lawn real estate. He asked us “do you think people will stand when the band goes on?” We said “Yep!” he said “Ok!” all was well. He waited there for about an our. Equally as suddenly, a mom and two kids emerge from the crowd, looking flustered, carrying lawn chairs. Immediately we knew, something was off. Lets call her Denise.

This dialog is scripted, buy conveys the emotions we witnessed. Dennis is D1, Denise is D2

D2: This is the spot you picked?? We can’t see anything!
D1: Denise, people are just gonna stand as soon as the band starts, it’ll be fine!
D2: Den, we brought lawn chairs, we have organic locally sourced corn salsa from Union Market, how are we going to set up the table I special ordered from Pottery Barn with this location?
(Denise then starts pacing around, looking for another spot. Its 7:45pm, the show started at 7 and the place is packed, she is clearly not happy)

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At this point, Denise took 2 chairs and set them up about 10 feet away, near some garbage cans. Dennis walked over to discuss some more, at which point, they clearly noticed our group laughing at them. I would like to tell you we felt bad, but that was not the case. You can’t be showing up at an outdoor general admission show 15 minutes before the headliner goes on and expect to have a leisurely family picnic, complete with flax seed gluten free pita and chipotle hummus. We also had some fantastic beers in the 90 degree 100% humidity weather.

To his credit, Dennis was just out to have a good time. His heart was in the right place, his execution was just all wrong. The path 1 foot in front of their spot, is the only path to get through the park, there’s no way around it. He spent a good portion of the night shooing people off from his spot…a futile effort. We on the other hand were very grateful for Dennis and his lawn chairs, which provided the perfect boundary to prevent people from stepping on our blanket.

Jeff Tweedy & Cleetus from the Red Heel Monkey Shelter

So Dennis, if you happen to read this, like that queen of evil from the Glen Hansard Housingworks show, may I propose a few points of advice:

1. Reserved Seats If you’re going to show up with a bunch of people right before a band goes on, and would like to have some semblance of order, have reserved seats. Skip the general admission show if you’re going to arrive in shifts. Especially if the latter shift contains more people. They play theaters more often than these park things. If you want the musical experience, tailor it to your group.

2. Show Selection Or, if you’re after the outdoor concert experience, just don’t go to a super popular show! You’re a dad who likes to rock, who do you think all the other dads in the area are going to want to see? Wilco occupies a special space, since a few youngsters also like them….like the Khaki Pants Dudes drinking Jack Daniels from the bottle while chain smoking behind you. Pick your family shows wisely! Let’s look at the Celebrate Brooklyn calendar right now….Saturday Aug 11th, Lyle Lovett and his band. There you go! Just go to that one, the crowd won’t get rowdy, and you’ll be able to stake out a nice civil spot on the lawn. Sure he’s not the same as Wilco, but Denise isn’t going to criticize your poor choice in lawn space!

3. Travel Light Again, if you want to show up right before….travel light! Half your night was ruined because of your lawn chairs. Sure it made our night better, but you gotta look out for yourself! Had your whole group just stood in any of the smaller open spaces nearby not able to fit 4 lawn chairs….you would have been fine! You also would have avoided the argument with Denise, and the shame of being laughed at by several groups around you.

I am aware that it is not easy to attend shows with an entire family, and I commend your effort. But if you want to rock out with all the other dads and rapidly aging hipsters of Brooklyn, you might need to adapt your routine slightly.

As for the show? The music was great. The stage setup looked like something out of Peter Pan or Where The Wild Things Are, mixed with the lighting storm going on in the distance behind the stage. We’ll discuss more music soon.

Acoustics

Damn you, Martin Guitars.

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Since there’s no price listed, and the briefly available Tweedy Breedlove was quite a few thousand dollars…you have to assume this one will be up there.  My first expensive guitar was a Martin D-28, which I swept many a floor and painted many a panel to purchase.  It retrospect, I sometimes wish it were a Gibson J-45.  The Martin sounds beautiful, its just a little too folk-y for some occasions.  Also, visually, its just not that cool.  And in this TMZ Kashardian world we live in, its all about the visuals.

In all seriousness, those dreadnaught Martins just don’t look that cool (at least when brand new)   So I have great respect for Tweedy and whoever designed this guitar, for changing that color.  Super cool sunburst.

Tweedy played the Bowery Ballroom last year solo acoustic, with several Martin parlor sized guitars, and one Gibson Jumbo.  I’m not sure of the model, but it had an awesome “BUCK” logo engraved in the pick guard. The first song he played with it, he messed up some chords, and apologized…he was distracted by the giant sound of the guitar.

And here it is!
And there it is!

It’s easy to overlook the fact that these instruments were designed in an era before amplification.  They were built to be heard over other instruments.  I heard someone comment recently that a violin is built like a little concert hall.  This photo essay demonstrates that

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A few years back while traveling with a musical outfit in Canada, a friend and I bumped into a childhood guitar hero.  I had met him at a guitar workshop when I was about 14….so another 14 years had passed.  Martin had just built him a signature guitar, and he had serial number 2 with him.  You could literally feel the joy he took in it.  He pulled it right out of the case and handed it to us, like a kid showing you some toys.  Only this guy was 70.  He might have literally said “eh? pretty cool right?” Or I might have imagined that.  It was a surreal and beautiful moment.

What must it feel like to be so known for an instrument, that a 125 year old company models one after you.  Maybe its just another day for those guys.

Nels Cline Sits In At The Living Room

Its just any other Monday in New York, a city whose cultural magnitude is 2nd only to that of Jersey City, NJ.  The workday has ended, and I have retired to my abode to work on some music, when I get a text message from Web Master T Bone.  Apparently Nels Cline is playing at The Living Room sitting in with Jim Campilongo, you know, just some random stuff.  So, my plans adapt.

Campilongo plays every Monday night at The Living Room on the Lower East Side.  There is no doubt that he is a straight up virtuoso, unrivaled by about 96.5% of guitar players on earth.  I took a lesson with him once, and he certainly knows his stuff, and is a flawless player.  Having said that, he just isn’t my thing.  I cant explain it, but it just doesn’t connect with me, lots of notes and bending.  Nels Cline on the other hand, well, we know how I feel about Nels.

Nels In The Greatest Suit Ever
Nels In The Greatest Suit Ever

This show was clearly the place to be on this particular monday, many notable NY musicians were in the crowd, it was standing room only, the one waitress could not nearly get to everyone.  In recent years, as my twenties have passed the halfway point, I find myself getting less and less excited over my childhood guitar heroes.  I don’t know what it is, maybe its just harder to be enthusiastic as we get older.  In my early days I would go to a show hours early to get right up front and do the guitar dude thing…ya know, checkin’ out the pedals…but these days, I feel more comfortable in whichever seat has a good view and is not surrounded by loud people.  That all kind of went out the window when Nels walked in, I felt like a kid hanging around his favorite pro athlete or something.

Anyhoo, the Campilongo trio went on, and um, as their name indicates, they played for a loonnnnng time (sorry, had to do it) before Nels came on.  The first few songs were entertaining, full of virtuosity, clearly a tight band.  But after a while, the crowd thinned out a bit…I saw one dad and his kid leave around 11:30, the kid looking clearly disappointed he did not get to see Nels play.  I mean, its a monday man, come on.

Eventually, preceded by a long disclaimer about how they were ill rehearsed…Nels came to the stage.  Some ridiculous hippy looking kids in the front row just completely lost their shit. Screaming, headbanging, fist pumping, just going nuts.  In this one instance, I’ll forgive them, because this shit was just crazy.  Well, the first song The Beatles’ “Yer Blues”  was a little sloppy, but really, who cares.  Its supposed to be sloppy.  Next, a cinematic sounding western instrumental standard I do not know the name of, featuring a tasteful solo by Camilongo, followed by a short one by Cline…and they closed with Third Stone From The Sun by Jimi Hendrix (not to be confused with 3rd rock from the sun, the John Lithgow comedy classic)

That’s pretty much where it all exploded.  Nels was just hanging in the crowd looking antsy before he came up, and he seemed to let it all out on this tune.  They did a short noise improv intro, in which he picked up some type of mini megaphone and would scream into the guitar pickups, sending feedback throughout the tiny club.  The bass and drums segued into the classic Hendrix rhythm section riff, and they took off from there.  Campilongo just got out of the way musically, and Nels took over.  I’m fairly sure he began to levitate, as his guitar shot out flames of psychedelic fire, covered in diamonds, towing a trailer full of centaurs each playing their own flying V made of solid gold.  Yes, that’s exactly what it was like.

All completely accurate descriptions aside…It really did feel like watching a player with no equal.  Sure, anyone could play the same notes (well, not anyone)  But you instantly know it was Nels style.  I imagine this is what it was like to watch someone like Hendrix play.  He inflicted such emotion into everything he did, If he had spontaneously combusted on that stage, I would have completely understood, left, got a crepe, and gone home.

In this day of whatever the fuck passes for popular music, its very reassuring to know that there are still masters of their craft alive and well.  Nels may be in his fifties (although he looks about 35) but no one is playing stuff like that, past or present.  He had some weird cheapo Danelectro type guitar, played through a few pedals into whatever the house guitar amp was, so it’s clearly not any specific gear that makes his sound, he could have picked up an ESP Screaming Skull through a Mesa Triple Rectifier, and would still have sounded like himself.  The question that comes up these days, is why did it take until he joined Wilco in 2004 for the world to discover him?  Not that I was at all ahead of the curve, The first time I heard his name was about his 8th show with the band at Irving Plaza.  But if it took Jeff Tweedy to bring the world a guitar hero, I’m fully ok with that.  What I want to know, is when will they release his signature video game?

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.

Wilco @ Coney Island : Donate And Get It.

Keyspan Park on Coney Island
Keyspan Park on Coney Island

In an effort to encourage people to donate to the relief effort in Haiti, Wilco posted 2 shows on their website in exchange for a donation (its the honors system, they link to a few charities, don’t screw your karma here!) Of course, we shouldn’t need incentives to help those in need…but a few live concerts is a nice touch. One of the recordings is this summers show from Keyspan Park in Coney Island. It was a beautiful summer evening, outdoor small stadium, free ice cream trucks in the parking lot, Nathans hot dogs, Feist and the dude from Grizzly Bear sat in, all good things. But listening back, as is often the case, the energy doesn’t translate as well. A live album is a tricky and mysterious thing. For every “Live At Budokan” there are hundreds of “Kiss Alive XXVII”.

Tweedy and Feist in Brooklyn
Tweedy and Feist in Brooklyn

In my earliest days of audiophile aspirations, I traded cassettes of live shows. This was in the early days of the Internet, we still mailed cassettes, CD burners were not commercially available…and you could barely send a jpeg…UPHILL IN THE SNOW BOTH WAYS! Recently when my parents moved from their house, I found all these original cassettes in the basement in several racks. There were hundreds of them. Sometimes you would get lucky, as in the case of The Black Crowes, i believe it was the Palace Theater, in Syracuse 1996. Someone leaked a soundboard recording of the show, I still remember the insert card on the case, it was bright pink photocopied, with some Fillmore style text on it. Even on that crappy inconsistent speed of the cassette, probably 9th generation, you could feel the incredible multiple drug infused energy of this band at their peak. On the other hand, pick any one of thousands of Grateful Dead tapes from XYZ Arena, and you have the opposite effect.

As far as official live releases go, the classic AC/DC life is pretty near flawless.  The Stones live classic “Get Yer Yayas Out”  Is a perfect picture of a sloppy burnt out bunch of English rockers at their best, just about to fall apart and create a masterpiece in the studio.  It seems like back in the day, more thought was put into a live album, since so much preparation had to be taken in order to make it happen.  With remote recording rigs so readily available, I would venture to say that most larger bands record nearly everything they do. Sometimes they all get released- as is the case with the Live Phish series, as well as current Black Crowes shows. Others, as in the case with Wilco, they filter the releases a little more. The Keyspan Park show probably suffers in the technical mix a bit, maybe we were just distracted by the beautiful surroundings of Coney Island at the time, who knows. But in some cases, I think my new philosophy will be to live in the moment as far as shows go, and not seek recordings after the fact.