Wilco: Under California Stars

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:

"I’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."

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10 thoughts on “Wilco: Under California Stars

  1. Greg – How much are Wilco shows nowadays? I’ve never seen them live but I would love to. I admit, though, that I am hesitant to see any show for over $20 bucks – for several reasons

  2. This one was $40 or so. Some of the venues will be cheaper, but probably not under $20. I do think it’s worth it. My Morning Jacket and The Roots are opening for them for a bunch of dates on this little summer tour; maybe that would justify paying more?

  3. I always think of Wilco as a “him.” Jeff Tweedy.

    I hope Ben Folds tickets aren’t that much. I want to take all the kids.

  4. I’ve seen them twice, once with the old lineup, once with the new. The first time (old lineup) was amazing, but the second was disappointing. –Perhaps because I think Leroy Bach was quite underrated. I have some bootlegs from the 2004 tour–even then I think you can tell somethings missing. Not as passionate, not as tight.

    Both shows cost me about $30.

  5. Pris: Of course, as Susan alludes to, Wilco has never had the same lineup two albums in a row, so I’m not sure which lineups you saw. Leroy Bach had only been around since Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. You’re actually the first Wilco fan I’ve heard bemoan his departure; usually folks are pining for Jay Bennett or Ken Coomer. At the show last week, I thought Sansone, Jorgenson, and Cline more than compensated for Bach.

  6. Musically, is miss Jay Bennett more. I don’t know who the musicians were at my second show, but it seemed too…clinical. I spent most of the first show (during the YHF tour) watching Bach–I just liked his sense of timing and the way he played.

    The first show I saw was during the YHF tour. Someone threw a pair of panties up on the stage. At the end of the song, Tweedy bends down and picks it up with the end of his guitar and flips it back to the audience. It lands at my friend’s feet. Being the sort of indie-rock concert goers that we are, we just sort of looked at it. Meanwhile the next song had started, but Bach was motioning for my friend to throw it back up. Believe me, it was a lot funnier when it happened. (Unfortunately, another concert goer picked them up and…well, I don’t know what they did with them.)

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