by Greg Call
The Greek Theater on the campus of UC Berkeley is an amazing setting. It’s a traditional outdoor amphitheater built into a hillside, with a row of Doric columns standing behind the stage. From the higher seats, and the eucalyptus-ringed hillside above the seats, you can look out west over the San Francisco Bay and watch the sun set over the city. As Jeff Tweedy said sarcastically last Saturday night, "it’s the perfect setting for a bunch of dismal rock songs."
I’ve seen Wilco twice before, and Jeff Tweedy solo another time, but not since A Ghost is Born and the new lineup. I was interested to see what the new guys did with the old songs, and how the new songs would come off live.
The opener was "Misunderstood," which is often the climax of a Wilco show, but turned out to be a great way to get things rolling. I thought one of the new guitarists, Nels Cline, was a bit too aggressive in trying to make an impression. But the new, bigger band filled out the songs nicely. Drummer Glenn Kotche has added a lot to the mix. Highlights were "Sunken Treasure," "Late Greats," "Just a Kid" (their newest song, from the Spongebob Squarepants soundtrack), "Shot in the Arm," "Jesus, Etc.," "Heavy Metal Drummer," and "Passenger Side." No Uncle Tupelo stuff this time, nor Golden Smog. Surprises included "Airline to Heaven," "Kingpin," and "Bob Dylan’s Beard."
The new songs acquitted themselves well. "Kidsmoke," which I often skip past on cd, had a great buildup and climax. "Hummingbird" was fun. "At Least That’s What You Said" was even more Crazy Horse-y than the recorded version.
Jeff Tweedy was chatty and happy — telling stories, mocking Roger Daltrey in "Tommy," and poking fun at his own weight gain (he quit smoking). He even took the extreme risk of voicing a conservative political opinion in the People’s Republic of Berkeley — saying that he thought the bums on Telegraph Street should get jobs. It may have been the setting, or Tweedy’s mood, or the new lineup, but this was my favorite Wilco performance so far. There’s just something right about sitting on a grassy hill on a gorgeous summer night and singing along:
"IÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢d like to dream my troubles all away
On a bed of California stars.
Jump up from my starbed, make another day
Underneath my California stars."