I never thought focus groups could offer perks, until it happened to me. Find out two weeks ago I am headed to the Windy 'bitterly arctic, sub-zero freezing, I don't believe in global warming' City for message testing on some crap drug that will be draining all of my time in the next three months. Fine, no problem, I got over selling out to the man way back when all my art school buddies were pimping themselves out as pattern makers and children's book illustrators trying to make a buck. Ok, so no problem I gotta go to Chicago in February. Another dark room, the bowl of m&m's, for those of us in the marketing biz, this is a mulligan.
So it's Friday before, scrutinizing plans, flights, accommodations the whole nine. Through an absolute moment of pure kismet, I find out through an email string that a friend of a friend and his wife are headed to Chitown to see Wilco for two performances of their 'Winter Residency' at the famed (read: dilapidated) Riviera Theater. I figure what the hell, time to call in a favor. Wishful thinking? It was only two Saturday nights ago that I was summoned to create some last minute design for Warner's After-Grammy Party. So this is worth a shot. Love Wilco, gonna be in town, let's mix a little business with a whole lotta pleasure. First attempt solicits the response "Are you kidding, that show was sold out before Uncle Tuepelo broke up". Well I took the shot. It was a long shot.
An hour later, I get the email. Will call for Wilco, one ticket. Perfect. I'm in. Unfortunately, I had already mentioned the possibility of the show to the Mrs., so although I was thisclose to seeing Mr. Tweedy & Co. I had to figure out how to really work this thing. SO, I think to myself, if I want IT where do I go, where does anyone go to get IT? Ebay, of course. OF COURSE. And there IT was, one lonely GA ticket for Monday's show, and better yet from a seller in Brooklyn. More karma flowing my way. IT could be counterfeit, but what the hell, I took the shot. It was a long shot. I've gotten this far with just a few phone calls, so I go for IT. Seller can do overnight FedEx, I go for broke and book Laura's flight. Airline to heaven. Well if nothing else, she'll go to Wilco and I'l hang back in the room. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Saturday morning, second mug of Dunkin Donuts, kids watching 'Toon Disney, I pour over set lists, Wilco is to play their entire catalog across the five night stand! Wow, I think, in order? Alphabetically? Chronologically? Soundscan? Giddy with anticipation. Can't stand it. Door bell rings, FedEx, ticket. Looks real, smells real. We're in. Now there are only 725 miles separating us from Wilco. Nothing'severgonnastandinmyway, this rock and roll road trip is on.
Not quite as sexy at 39, with 5yo twins, but nonetheless we are going to rock, rock very hard, and finding adequate care for the kids is as close as a 10 minute drive to Grandma and Grandpa's house. Drop the kids at noon, chill a little to avoid the separation anxiety (ours, not theirs), then a car to LaGuardia, American non-stop to O'Hare. Damn delays, We listen to the entire Troutdale show on the flight, then some. We land. 6:20pm central. Still have an hour till show time. Presidents' Day so traffic is light. More karma. Loving our first and 16th presidents. Marriott. Can't jam the electronic key in the door fast enough. Bags dumped it's another 25 minute drive along the lake, left toward Racine. My mind races, Their entire catalog? I relive the chase scene from Blues Brother. Then finally, The Riviera. A lot like the Beacon, only after a bad fire. Love the character. Short will call line for industry folks which I swear I'm not, Only through association, but I know it's thin. We're in, bee line towards the floor, I can hear the mellow tones of an acoustic guitar. I identify it to be 'Blue Eyed Soul'. Sweet. Two minutes late, not bad considering the journey. Problem, this show is sold out. Way over sold out if you ask me, we're stuck in the back behind the bar, great acoustics and a stunning view of the peeling WPA murals that circle overhead. Hate it here. The frustration mounts. We've come so far to stare at cracked plaster? Well I took the shot. It was a long shot. But I can almost touch the brass ring, can't quit now. Within 15 minutes we've squeezed into a staircase on the second balcony. Clear view, amazing sound. Karma. Jesus, etc.
And now the review.
What's to say really, has anyone ever given them a bad review? They went on promptly at 7:30 and played non-stop until quarter after nine, when Jeff announced they were taking a little break, 'like the Dead'. They returned and tore it up until after 10:30. Blistering. Soulful. On and on and on. Although his banter with the audience is fairly scripted, at least I've heard the same type of back and forth, stuff like the cute jabs at those calling out songs, Jeff Tweedy and entourage certainly make up for it when they play. And play they did. I was struck by just how richly textured and varied the Wilco songbook really is, Song after song, I thought how corny it seemed, but each was like a friend. New and old. And they make that relationship apparent as they effortlessly flow from delicate ballads to straight on three chord rock. It certainly wasn't my first Wilco show, but it was my first Wilco show in Chicago. Midway through the second set, I had an epiphany, this is the best rock band in world, Right here. Right now. I thought about how they were so in their element, as if it was predestined. They belong to Chicago and they belonged at the Riviera. I couldn't help but think how awkward and aloof they seemed at the Grammy's just a few weeks ago. Deserving they are of accolades, a look at the tour calendar confirms they reward themselves almost every night. I tried to think about the last time I felt so good about a band that was making everyone feel so good. REM comes to mind, but they always kept their fans at arms length. Not through their music but through their accessibility. They had their airs about them. The were the pioneers of college rock, and they had to hold onto that mantle. It paid off for them, catapulting them to worldwide fame and some valuable radio airplay. But with Wilco, the honesty is almost as overwhelming as the music. I recall the scene in 'I Am Trying To Break Your Heart' when Jeff is puking from a combination of migraine and stress brought on by Jay Bennett and the record execs. There is no pretense there, never has been. Then I thought to myself, must be fun to be him. Then I thought better, it must be satisfying to be him. Like a big thick ChicagoLand steak dinner, the show was ultimately satisfying. Next time I'll skip the meal on the plane and go for a second helping of Wilco.
A big shout out to Diane H. and Susan M. from WMG and the security guard who set us up on the second balcony. Outtasite!
I'm just sayin'.
Wilco-Winter Residency, Feb. 18th, 2008 The Rivera Theater, Chicago Illinois
01. Blue Eyed Soul
02. Remember The Mountain Bed (w/ Andrew Bird)
03. Bob Dylan's 49th Beard (w/ Andrew Bird)
04. Hesitating Beauty (w/ Andrew Bird)
05. That's Not The Issue (w/ Andrew Bird & Pat on banjo)
06. Wishful Thinking
07. You Are My Face
08. Side With The Seeds
09. A Shot In The Arm
10. We're Just Friends
12. Handshake Drugs
13. How To Fight Loneliness (w/ Andrew Bird)
14. Jesus, Etc (w/ Andrew Bird)
15. Should've Been In Love
16. Pick Up The Change (w/ Andrew Bird)
18. Walken (w/ Horns)
19. I'm The Man Who Loves You (w/ Horns)
20. Via Chicago
21. Impossible Germany
22. She's A Jar (w/ Andrew Bird)
23. Say You Miss Me
24. Box Full Of Letters
25. I'm Always In Love
26. Hate It Here (w/ Andrew Bird & Horns)
27. The Late Greats (w/ Andrew Bird & Horns)
28. Red Eyed & Blue (w/ Andrew Bird & Horns)
29. I Got You (w/ Andrew Bird)
30. Monday (w/ Horns)
31. My Darling
32. Can't Stand It (w/ Horns)