Stalking Wilco

2011 May 12
by Don Hammack

Finally getting around to updating the blog, and getting around to posting about my 2011 Jazz Fest experience. I went just two days this year, Thursday and the second Friday. The big draw for me, of course, was Wilco.

Before another chapter in the Stalking Wilco chronicles, let’s talk food. I had known the day was coming for a few years, but Thursday finished my Crawfish Bread career. There might be a Michael Jordan/Brett Favre unretirement at some point, but the folks at Panorama Foods need to listen to my man Bruce Dickinson. I’ve got a fever and the only cure is … more Crawfish Bread. Up the size, folks. I went with my old standbys: Cochon de Lait Po-Boy (times 2), Crawfish Monica, Mango Freeze and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Yeah, I had PB&J at Jazz Fest. They’re good and they’re cheap. Good and cheap. I should have tried the Pheasant, Quail and Andouille Gumbo, but I went with tried and true.

I can also highly recommend the tacos at Chickie Wah Wah in Mid-City.

Now, onto Wilco. I dig out my past experiences and attach them below. Here’s the Jazz Fest 2011 version (WilcoBase appears not to be updating, so set lists from another source):

Jazz Fest, New Orleans Fair Grounds, May 5, 2011: I got smuggled into the VIP section by a buddy who will remain nameless, so as not to get him in trouble. This was by far the closest I’ve been for any of their shows. Figure I was within 30 feet of Jeff Tweedy (closer to Pat Sansone, further from Nels Cline, so you can figure out which side of the stage I was on). Wilco has figured out the festival scene now. Tweedy was still in a jacket ( I guess that’s his thing), but they were big, loud and at their professional best. I mean professional as the highest compliment. I never really appreciate the moving parts that go into Wilco songs until you see them play live, but many of their songs have sections where everybody in the band goes in their own direction. The chaos builds, wanders, then suddenly collapses in a heap with everybody back playing the same tune. Indoors or out, that’s a trademark, but the big noisy songs really play well at Jazz Fest. I didn’t get a good appreciation for the crowd at the show, being that close (go ahead, send this to @humblebrag), but that was the only drawback to a great set.

Finally got one of the five nights of Wilco’s residency in Chicago popped into my iPod. Got me thinking about my favorite band (although my love is visceral and not quantifiable; when folks ask me why I love ‘em, I just say I do, no explanation) and how many times I’ve seen them. Dates and details courtesy of WilcoBase:

The Howlin’ Wolf, New Orleans, April 28, 2000: Went with Stumpy Doan. My biggest memory is being close enough to really see Jeff Tweedy, and how messed up I thought he looked. Now, I don’t know if that was just normal performing or perhaps it was some substance or another. Still, the show was sensational.

State Palace Theater, New Orleans, April 21, 2005: This was part of a Wilco doubleheader. They were going to play the first day of JazzFest, and the shows could not have been more different. At the State Palace it was multimedia. A big video, photo, visual effects show behind them on stage. My first live exposure to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, and like every time I see them play something live the first time, I find a new level of appreciation.

Jazz Fest, New Orleans Fair Grounds, April 22, 2005: I don’t think Wilco had played many outdoor fests at this point, and Tweedy said he was a bit uncomfortable doing it. Might have had something to do with the corduroy jacket he was wearing. Everybody else was sweating their a$$e$ off. The band hadn’t really broken “big” yet, so the crowd was not super into in the depths of the first turn of the track away from the stage. The hardcore folks were up front. That’s where I wound up.

Temple Theater, Meridian, Miss., March 15, 2006: A show brought about by Meridian native son Pat Sansone, whose dad used to organize the city’s Lively Arts Festival back in the 1970s. What a great, old venue. I sat in the very top of the balcony, and the acoustics were spectacular. Had to shush some young girls at one point, but they behaved after that. The night will be remembered for Sansone’s love letter to his dad and the building. I have that bootleg and it still brings chills.

Lollapalooza, Grant Park, Chicago, August 6, 2006: I saw they were playing at Lollapalooza and had to go. One of my biggest regrets in my (admittedly weak) pursuit of good music was skipping the first Lollapalooza when it blasted through Raleigh, N.C. I wussed out, stupidly. This festival was surely a far cry from the original (think more commercial), but I had a great week up there. Wilco was great, as was Nickel Creek. Oh, and Chicago was fabulous on my first trip.

Voodoo Fest, City Park, New Orleans, October 28, 2007: My lovely newlywed wife’s first Wilco concert. She endured the endless walking from the remote parking to the depths of City Park. I love her for gutting it out, especially on a Sunday night when we had to work the next day. (Well, she did. I took the day off.) They played quite a bit of the new Sky Blue Sky stuff, but also a bunch of older stuff, especially from Being There. That’s my favorite album, and I enjoyed the show. Only regret: ducking out and starting the long trek back to the car trying to beat the crowd while they rolled out their one-song encore. I felt bad because it was Hoodoo Voodoo, appropriate for the venue and my favorite Mermaid Avenue song.

Mobile Civic Center, Mobile, Ala., March 3, 2008: Carla’s second Wilco show. I couldn’t figure out why they were going to play the Civic Center; it seemed far too big for them. Turns out, they played in the concert hall there. It was lovely, and the show was as well. It’s also part of the new DVD “Ashes of American Flags.” So, I guess that makes us movie stars, too.

Jazz Fest, New Orleans, La., April 25, 2009: What a fantastic show. Wilco was supremely loose and confident, goofing around with each other following some notable flubs but also unleashing mad musicianship. My reactions to their work remains consistent. Some songs make me smile, some songs make my throat constrict with emotion making it difficult to sing along and I still get chills at least once a show. The highlights were the shirtless roadie rockin’ a ’70s porn stache and a cowbell during “I’m the Man Who Loves You” and a high-flying jump by all band members off seats or amp stacks, punctuated by a John Stirratt pratfall. Bonus: Stirratt was interviewed by Rolling Stones’ David Fricke at the Heritage Stage earlier in the day. It was enjoyable, although Stirratt seemed a little reluctant in the early going to venture beyond the vanilla. He opened up eventually, taking a pretty big swing at Nonesuch about leaking the Feist appearance on the new to-be-self-titled album, but it was fairly obvious he was uncomfortable with the navel-gazing. His folks were in the audience, too, which could have restricted him a bit, too.

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