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Wilco — 5 October 2021, Portland, OR (Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall) [Night 1 of 2]


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What's that saying...you can never go home again? Well, despite what we may have experienced during the pandemic when livestreaming and Zooming allowed us to bend the known rules of time and space and, for example, be in more than one place at the same time, you can probably never fully go back in time again either.

 

With this postponed/rescheduled/reconfigured run of West Coast Wilco shows kicking off almost exactly two years after the release of the band's most recent studio record, Ode To Joy, there has been some thought that Jeff and his bandmates would basically go back to the show they were putting on back then. Even the band's social-media messaging has been including these dates, both in name and imagery, as part of the "Ode To Joy" tour. On the first of two nights in Portland, there was certainly some sense of that — but not entirely.

 

Visually, things were pretty reminiscent of those pre-pandemic shows. From the big video screen behind the band displaying various abstract images — including the "soap suds" Wilco short film that is shown when the band goes off stage following the main set — to Glenn's drum head with a sort of faded grid design, the stage setup seemed similar to how it was back in March 2020 when the band got three shows into this tour before shelving it. On a personal note, I remember flying home to Chicago for one day following the band's final pre-lockdown gig in Winnipeg and getting ready to trek out to Portland the following morning en route to a few of the Western shows and being advised that night not to go — that the band was postponing the rest of its tour — and what a surreal time that all was.

 

As Jeff has pointed out a number of times since the band has returned to the stage this year — and did so again tonight — OTJ came out "right before all the joy." Tonight he added, with a deadpan, "Things changed a bit. I like to think this record changed the world."

 

That might have been true, but on this first night at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, only three songs from OTJ made the setlist — and two of them are ones that the band has played at, I'm pretty sure, every show since resuming live shows a couple of months ago. So from that perspective, this didn't really feel like the true OTJ experience (no Bright Leaves>Before Us opening two-fer, for example, or Hold Me Anyway near the end of the main set). It was more like where the band is right now, combined with where it had been, so we'll see whether Night 2 at the Schnitz brings more of those OTJ vibes or if some of those songs — We Were Lucky, An Empty Corner — are permanently banished to the Deep Cut Dimension.

 

Then again, I'm sure most attendees tonight didn't really care about whether the focus was on OTJ or not. They were probably just glad to be seeing Wilco and the Young Fresh Fellows (who, by the way, put on a short, but energetic set of their garage-y rock) — or, frankly, any good band. I always have to remind myself that some people are still emerging from lockdown and venturing out to live performances and restaurants again for the first time in many moons. For those folks, this was just as solid a set as any Wilco show in recent years and featured all the songs a casual fan would probably hope to hear.

 

Of note, Art Of Almost was its usual barnburner self though it's worth noting that would have almost certainly not have been played if this show had taken place when it was originally scheduled because the band had dropped it from its repertoire at that time. (In fact, I was told that there wasn't even an accompanying visual for that song from the earlier tour so one had to be cobbled together.) Meanwhile, our resident monomaniac, theashtraysays, got his beloved Bull Black Nova whilst in attendance, so all was good in the world there. And we also got "The End"-style introduction to Heavy Metal Drummer that had slowly been in development over the course of the Sleater-Kinney tour, though I think even Jeff was a little surprised when his bandmates started their vamp for that, saying half-bemusedly to them and/or himself, "Oh, we're gonna do this?"

 

Jeff, for his part, said almost nothing for the first half of the set before checking in prior to Impossible Germany. "Is everyone having a good time?" he asked. I guess someone near the front must have asked in return if he was. "I'm having a great time," Jeff replied. "I just feel like playing; I don't really feel like talking." Of course, that didn't last. There were at least two funny visits to Banter Corner that I jotted down, the first coming before Jesus, etc., when Jeff spoke earnestly about his heart "swelling with pride" when he looked out and saw everyone doing what they had to do to take care of each other and help ensure that the band could keep doing what it loved to do. Jeff then encouraged people to feel free to sing along, but he noted that it would probably be best done with masks on "not because of the health restrictions, but because it sounds better." Another funny line came when Jeff shared a few songs after Hummingbird that he had meant to change the line in the song from the great southwest to the great northwest but forgot. "I flunked pandering at frontman school," Jeff quipped.

 

There were some weird vibes between Jeff and some segments of the crowd that I didn't fully pick up on, but I'm pretty sure were there. Like when someone shouted out something about the sound being good, Jeff said, "Finally someone lets us know how it sounds. I've been wondering the whole time. ... I think each person should make an observation about an aspect (of the show)." And then as he was walking off stage following the main set, Jeff definitely had a few words with a person — or persons — sitting in the front row, who looked liked they might have done something that irked him.

 

As I suggested at the start, it will be interesting to see how the show tonight changes — or doesn't — in terms of returning the focus at least somewhat to Ode To Joy. I don't expect an entirely different set or even a significantly different one, but I do wonder what the mindset will be as far as trying to recapture the past. Who knows? Since we're defying the laws of physics anyway, maybe we'll even zoom ahead to the future and hear a new song. One can always hope, right?

 

Here was the complete setlist, as played, for Night 1 in Portland (there were no changes from the printed list):

 

A Shot In The Arm

Random Name Generator

Side With The Seeds

One And A Half Stars

I Am Trying To Break Your Heart>

Art Of Almost

If I Ever Was A Child

Via Chicago

Bull Black Nova

Love Is Everywhere (Beware)

Impossible Germany

Hummingbird

Everyone Hides

Box Full Of Letters

Dawned On Me

Jesus, etc.

Theologians

I'm The Man Who Loves You

Heavy Metal Drummer

I'm Always In Love

--------------------------------------------

Ashes Of American Flags

The Late Greats

Outtasite (Outta Mind)

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Update: I decided to make it difficult on myself and not combine the two-night stands into one recap. I'm sure I'll regret it soon enough, but hey, more drivel to peruse over afternoon tea for Herr Tatlock, I suppose... :coffee :lol

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Thank you, sir! After last Friday's solo show I was feeling particularly wistful about the unusually long gap since I've seen the full band (I had to miss August's show in NYC because I was out of town). But it's like the message board kids say, or should say: A Report from Paul: The Next Best Thing to Being There.

 

I wonder if it's somewhat strange for Jeff -- in addition to the obvious surreal nature of resuming a tour leg sixteen months later -- to have played a pair of solo shows for 500 or so people on one coast, then play a larger concert hall with the full band on the opposite coast three days later. I guess it's less unusual for a guy with a few decades of touring under his belt. And the pandemic has certainly taught us all to expect the unexpected.

 

Looking forward to reading your dispatch from tonight. Enjoy the show!

 

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Night 1 of the Portland double-date was some solid Wilco for sure.  And having the Young Fresh Fellows set the stage with 30 minutes of "let's have a ball playing and watching you sit in your seats" was a pretty good clue that we weren't going to get the original OtJ opener and bring down the room.  The floor was standing for the whole Wilco set, and the balcony even popped up around I'm the Man.  It was nice hearing a few songs swapped into the rotation like Seeds and especially Ashes for the first encore song.  Was surprised that Scott and Co didn't show up somewhere in the encore - hope that gets rectified soon. 

Obviously for me the highlight was Bull Black Nova, complete with the liquid melty bloody backdrop from earlier in the tour.  No holds barred.

(Sign update - briefly hoisting a NOVA NIGHT? sign caught security's attention more than Jeff's, so I can't take credit there.  Security in this rather cushy theater was firm but not obnoxious).

As for the "irked" incident mentioned by bbop, that was directed at one of a couple of highly enthusiastic guys on the front to Jeff's left.  Nothing at all wrong with enthusiasm, but there was a lot of camera / video action going on with that particular fellow, and at one point he laid his phone (or small camera - couldn't quite tell) on the lip of the stage next to the monitor (there was no rail; row 1 of the pit was up against the stage like most fancy theaters).  Jeff shook his head "no" at the guy and pointed at it, but the guy just left it there.  So Jeff reached down over the monitor, picked it up, and set it back behind him on his amp.  As the band was leaving the stage, he looked at the guy and said "don't put anything on the stage".  The guy eventually got someone to retrieve the device during clean up after the show.  Eric (sizeable Tour Manager extraordinaire) came out to check on things, and the guy said to him "Can I get a setlist?"  Eric gave him a "SERIOUSLY??" glare and said "No!" and walked off with quite a WTF look. 

And did I mention The Young Fresh Fellows?  Oh I did?  Well I just have to say, I am THRILLED to get 30 minutes of Scott & Co at these upcoming shows this run.  They are a blast, and I think they'd have fun playing to 5 or 5000.

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17 hours ago, bböp said:

Update: I decided to make it difficult on myself and not combine the two-night stands into one recap. I'm sure I'll regret it soon enough, but hey, more drivel to peruse over afternoon tea for Herr Tatlock, I suppose... :coffee :lol

 

That is fine, I am known for my big cup. It will last through 2 readings. But why the Herr, unless you are confusing me with Bert Trautman?

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3 minutes ago, Albert Tatlock said:

 

That is fine, I am known for my big cup. It will last through 2 readings. But why the Herr, unless you are confusing me with Bert Trautman?


Because it’s more fun to say than “Sir” or “Mister?” Also because your avatar reminds me of a German.

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5 minutes ago, bböp said:


Because it’s more fun to say than “Sir” or “Mister?” Also because your avatar reminds me of a German.

 

Out of interest, where would you put Señor on your scale of salutations? I think it has a certain grandeur whilst Herr is cold and unwelcoming (which come to think about it might make it more appropriate).

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45 minutes ago, Albert Tatlock said:

 

Out of interest, where would you put Señor on your scale of salutations? I think it has a certain grandeur whilst Herr is cold and unwelcoming (which come to think about it might make it more appropriate).

 

If you prefer Señor Tatlock (or the Portuguese variant Senhor), I would be more than happy to oblige! Herr is a bit cold, but that does seem a bit more in keeping with this particular persona...

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