Monday, June 22, 2009
Wilco was absolutely stunning on Saturday. This band is tight: even tighter than when I saw this line up previously. They play with enthusiasm, joy and creativity. A band of immensely talented musicians on top of their game.
But let me back up a bit: This is a story worth telling. I'd never been to this Fox Pomona theater: It's about an hour and a half from Simi. If I were offered the choice, I would see the show at a venue in
L.A, not out in Pomona. I don't want to drive that far that late at night. But this was the only Wilco show that I could get a ticket for, and there I was last night, heading out the 210 towards San Bernadino, and thinking about getting down close and taking some good shots of Tweedy with my new 50mm f1.4 lens. I had looked at the Fox website, and didn't see anything about "No Photography" but did see a link for people to use to upload their pictures from shows at the Fox, so I had reason for optimism about getting my camera in. As it turns out, Pomona has a pretty interesting revitalized downtown: Indie book stores, antique shops, restaurants and galleries. Lots of sidewalks, old buildings, interesting trees, parking and cops on Segways as well. I parked in a lot across from the theater where I had to pay $4 rather than going a few more blocks to the free parking in case I got turned away with my camera and had to put it back in my car.
A friend had alerted me to a notice on the venue website that, if you went into the club connected to the theater before for "happy hour," and you bought a drink, you could get a ticket that allowed you to cut in line and get in before those who had not. I got in line for a beer. 10 minutes and $7 later I had a plastic cup full of Sierra Nevada and an "Orange Ticket." Then I noticed that there was another line loosely formed amongst the crowd. These people were waiting for an elevator that was taking people 3 or 4 at a time. They were getting their ticket for the show scanned by security too. I asked around and found out that these people were headed to "The Roof" and that's where my friend had said was the place to go. So I got in that line to wait to get on the elevator, so I could go to "The Roof." After another 10 minutes, I was up at security ready to get on the elevator, but the woman working that door told me I couldn't take my camera in: It was a professional camera. Really?. Had they not seen my pictures?
So I got out of line, left the packed bar, headed back past the bookstores, antique shops, Pho, Peruvian and Fusion restaurants, Art Galleries with distorted paintings of naked people perhaps having sex, and past cops on Segways to my car. I put the camera away and headed back to the club door, and the guys that had been checking IDs before had closed the door. I showed them the wrist band that they had given me when they joked about my age, and they shrugged and said, "Sorry, we're at capacity."
I said, are you kidding me? I was in and they turned me away and told me that I couldn't go in with my camera, so I left to put it in my car, and now I have to get at the end of the line?
OK, come on in.
Almost immediately after going back in, the line of people on the sidewalk. I went back outside and went with the flow, as did much of the crowd inside the bar. This was amateur hour crowd control, and I'm surprised that someone didn't get hurt. No plan, no control over how to handle the people that had been invited to come early and drink. But a few shoves pushes later, I was in the venue, and went down to the floor and got a spot right in the center, just a few people back from the stage. I was pretty pleased with my spot, and struck up a conversation with those around me. It was my turn to head out and I wanted to buy a beer for myself and one other person. I was headed back to the floor where I had left it, and was turned away: "go to the other side of the floor to get back in. This is exit only" the guard said. So I went to the other side while the opening act, Jonathan Wilson" began to play. I was met there with a crowd of fans holding multiple drinks being told that they couldn't get back on the floor. Fire Marshall and all that. We couldn't stand there either. Fire Marshall and all that. People were getting angry and were yelling at security, so I left to see if there was another way to get in. Nope. So I went back down to the floor entrance area and was turned away again, this time with some emphatic rudeness.
I noticed a man with a different color security company shirt that looked like he was in charge and went up to him and told him what was happening, and he said that I could go back down and wait to get back
in right there at the spot where they had just emphatically and rudely turned me away. So I went back “there.”
This time there was another security guard there that looked like one of those guys that works security because they are too dumb, too fat, too ill-tempered, too sweaty and too short to be a cop. He was very
certain that we had to leave. We had to leave or he was going to have us ejected from the club. One guy was holding four beers and asked, "Do you think I drink beers four at a time, or do you think I bought a
round for my friends down there, on the floor?" The security guard was not moved. In fact he started yelling at him about the true victim of this fiasco: Him. How did we think he felt? All these unreasonable people upset at him, and it was really the Fire Marshall that was to blame. That and dumb people who were yelling at him. The guy with four beers makes his point a second time about the
beers being for his friends, and the security guard goes off on him. I don't remember what he said, but "four beers" lost grip on all but one of his beers backing away from the guy. I looked at him and said, "At least we know who the real victim here is, huh?"and the sweaty, short, ill-tempered dumb fat fuck turns to me and lays into me, and finishes with a demand that I should calm down. "You should calm down," I said. "You aren't helping with your aggressive attitude." The guy comes at me quick: "I AM NOT AGGRESSIVE YOU PRICK. IF I WERE BEING AGGRESSIVE, YOU'D KNOW ABOUT IT," was what he shouted. He said this a second time, this time reaching up and pounding his short, dumb, sweaty ill-tempered fat finger into my chest at each syllable. I was stunned. A beer in each hand and a dick fingered douche in between. If I were a less patient man, less stunned, and a man more quickly to throw down, I'm sure I'd have spent the night in jail. I looked at my chest, then to the guy's fingers, then down to his short, dumb, sweaty, ill-tempered fat face and gave him my best look of disdain. I must have been a good one because the guy backed away and kind of apologized, but not really. Fire Marshall and all that. I asked him what his name was, but he wouldn't tell me and he wasn't wearing any type of name tag. He pretended to talk into his radio. So I left the area to find some sort of manager that I could complain to, and saw the guy with the different color of shirt that made me think he was in charge.
"Hey, I want to talk to you," I said, starting with that I was holding two drinks, and couldn't get back down to the floor, and ready to launch into the whole story. He quickly interrupted: "Just go back
down there and wait to get back on the floor." I just turned and walked away, giving up on the idea of being on the floor.
I was seething. So I went to get another beer, and then to find a place to watch the show. The opening act was still playing and they were just not my cup of tea. I wasn't an un-bathed hippie jam band fan that smoked too much pot and got lost on the way to burning man, and they weren't playing songs for freshly insulted, quietly seething Wilco fan. I realized that the tiers near the bars were not the place to catch the show. There were too many chatting hipsters looking at their iPhones through square glasses and sipping a six ounce iced drinks through a little straws.
I found half a spot on the first tier behind the sound board and kinda angled myself in. Everyone had to be inside the white line along the floor, or they'd be asked to leave the area. It was then it occurred
to me: every place inside this theater was packed, and then some. They had over sold the show, and were dealing with the fall out. I'll be sure to add that to my sharply worded complaint. The guy in front of me asked if I'd help his date hold his spot while he got another round. Of course. When the guy returns with drinks, and I ask for a return favor. Of course. This was for a trip to the bathroom, which was as far away from where you'd watch the show without leaving the building, and there was a good sized line too. While I was waiting, another security guard came up and tried to clear the gathering crowd. This time, no luck. People were not going to cooperate and clear the area. We were dudes united by our urgent need for a urinal. I was actually considering leaving and just driving home. This was ridiculous. More than amateur hour really.
I got back down to my spot just as the opening band was finishing and I angled my way back to my spot. I waited without moving for Wilco and was working myself up into more and more anger. OK, I'd wait and see what the band sounded like, but the night was ruined, and I'd leave after a few songs.
I'm so glad I waited. This band is clicking on each and every cylinder. They have a wealth of material to draw on, and they can throw any number of surprising choices at the gathered fans each night. They have some great new songs, Like "Bull Black Nova" that was everything I had hoped. The stretched it out just a little, and when the more intense parts came, they were played with force, fire and majesty. We got "Deeper Down" which Jeff said was their first time playing live. I was thrilled. The anger, to my surprise, melted away. I was no longer replaying my mistreatment over in my mind. I wasn't composing the sharply worded email to the venue, to which I'd certainly cc Wilco. Instead I was bouncing up and down, fist pumping, grinning.
The band launched into what had been my favorite from the last show:"Impossible Germany." Those sublime chords to start the song were great, and the band ripped into the song with that enthusiasm that was the hallmark of this show. Tweedy started waving to someone off stage, and a roadie came out and Tweedy said something in his ear while the band kept on with the song. The roadie fiddled with the place at the effects pedals where Jeff's guitar plugged in, and Jeff was intently watching him, but stepping up and singing his parts without a missed beat. If you ever listen to a fan recording of this, you won't be able to tell something was amiss. The roadie left. Jeff ripped his chord out of the pedal with some obvious frustration. One of those nights. He plugged it directly into the amp, and stiffened when that didn't work. The band kept going. It was the part where Nels solos, and the tech had brought another chord out, and they plugged it in for Jeff, but it didn't work, I could tell by Jeff's posture. He kept his back turned to the audience, and while Nels stretched the solo out to give them some time to resolve this glitch, Kotche was grinning at Jeff, "Its OK," and the band kept going. Nels was brilliant. This was where Jeff was supposed to jump in and play that riff in conjunction Nels, but nope, his guitar wasn't being heard through this glitch. Nels kept playing extending the solo out further, hinting at that joint riff and then the big chords that come to resolve the tension, but it was still the solo. The tech came back with another guitar this time, plugged it in and traded with Jeff. Yeah, that's it. Nels looked up at Jeff and they were getting ready to play that joint riff: the now 5 minute extended solo was coming around. Almost there. The roadie was gathering up the chord from the first guitar, and when he pulled on that it unplugged Tweedy from the pedals, and so Nels went past the spot and kept going. Kotche is grinning, Nels is grinning, Tweedy is resigned now, and we are being treated to some stunning Nels ad-lib solo. Finally, Jeff is plugged in, the solo comes around again, and they launch into the joint riff. The crowd goes nuts. Goose bump inducing really.
They served us a harmonica driven "Pick Up The Change," followed by a "Black Bull Nova" ized "I Can't Stand It"
They were great. The set list seemed to be fashioned around their more fun, large crowd friendly songs: "I Hate It Here" "Walken" "California Stars" and then "Passenger Side" and eventually "Kingpin" “Hoodoo Voodoo” and "Spiders." The crowd was alive, singing, clapping and playing
along with Jeff's encouragement. Everyone was having fun.
I've never had so many "Nothings" at the end of "Misunderstood." I've seen versions of this song that were ferocious with blunt power. I've seen more stripped down versions, like in 2001, that were more pointed and sparse. This was majestic, but iIt ended with Tweedy singing some sort of birthday song for Sansome to the tune of the song. It was his 40th.
I'm sure that was the longest Wilco show that I'd ever attended. There wasn't a dissatisfied customer that I could see: I'm sure the guy that started out with four beers and had them knocked down to one would have agreed. I finally found Kevin outside of the venue, and he was certain that he was going to try and scrounge up a ticket for Tuesday. I'm sure I'll be there scrounging with him.
Go see this band. Just not at the Fox Theater in Pomona.