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Wilco — 9 October 2021, Olympia, WA (Washington Center For The Performing Arts)


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Well, that was a pleasant surprise indeed. Kudos, Olympia! I have to admit that in spite of the so-called "Rule of the Tertiary Market" — which dictates that it's usually a show outside of a major market that ends up being the more memorable on a given tour — I was still more than a bit skeptical after walking into the Washington Center for the Performing Arts on a drizzly Saturday evening.

 

It's true that at about 1,000 seats, the venue is one of, if not the, smallest that Wilco will play on this rescheduled Western leg of the Ode To Joy tour and, probably because of that, sold out relatively quickly. And it's also true that Olympia has more musical cachet than your ordinary tertiary market on account of its history as the breeding ground for scenes like grunge and riot grrrl. But the Washington Center seemed pretty far removed from those sorts of movements, giving off more of a small-town bougie theater vibe with things like its policy of no drinks inside the theater unless you bought one of their plastic cups and an art gallery-like exhibition spread over four levels.

 

The layout of the venue itself was pretty unusual with the aforementioned 1,000 or so seats spread out over those four separate floors. So if you can picture it, you had a relatively tiny main floor of about 200 seats and then three balcony levels, in effect, making for almost a silo-like effect. Presumably because of this, the band actually had to set up about 15 feet back from the front of the stage or else the people in the highest part of the theater would only see the tops of their heads. Even Jeff seemed a bit taken aback at the presence of audience members so high up when the house lights went on at one point. "Oh my God, I didn't know there were people all the way up there," Jeff said, waving in that direction. "That's where the vampires sit."

 

For whatever reason, though, Jeff seemed to gradually warm up to this crowd — and as he has sometimes joked in the past, he doesn't usually like most audiences — to the point where he actually delivered words of praise walking offstage (shhh...don't tell other crowds). And he did something that I've never seen him do before, which is take out his phone during a show and take a picture of the crowd. This was, he explained, so the band's social media channels could share an image of an audience doing what it needed to do to keep each other safe and make live music possible, which has been a theme of this run so far with venue staff coming out that past couple of nights and politely requesting on the band's behalf that audience members stay masked up throughout. "It's not that fucking hard," Jeff said, thanking people for doing that. "It's weird, but it's not that hard. We've done way worse shit at concerts before."

 

That kind of "way worse shit," however, was almost nowhere to be found tonight, which was probably the biggest reason for the rapport for between band and audience. Maybe the expectations were for a low-energy sort of response with people staying seated or some attendees not being actual fans of the band — instead turning out just to support the programming of the venue, for example, which does happen in places like that — but from the outset, most of the folks on the main floor stood up and stayed standing for the duration. And if it didn't totally match the energy level of a packed general-admission show in a club, well, there were also far fewer shenanigans and drunken yahoos. That's not a bad tradeoff most nights, IMHO. (Another thing that this audience got right was the encore applause, which took a few seconds to get going but eventually came together in a unified and rousing round of collective clapping, which seemed to pleasantly surprise Jeff. "That's how you do it, Olympia," he marveled. "That's like a real encore. We were coming back no matter what, but that put a little spring in our step.")

 

Banter Corner actually appeared as if might be a bit barren judging by the first half of the show, but true to form, Jeff started to pay his visits as the show moved on. Probably the most amusing one of the show for me came after Forget The Flowers when Glenn added sort of an unexpected little gallop-beat ending to the song. "Did you see him do that little Green Acres thing at the end there?" Jeff said, speaking almost as much to his drummer — who had a sheepish grin on his face — as to the audience. "Do you know how severe the beating will be on the bus later?" And Jeff also heaped praise on support act Young Fresh Fellows (see complete setlist below), of whom he said in part, "Aside from being a brutal, stomping rock juggernaut, they're also the best people you'd ever want to meet. We love them so much."

 

One bit of banter I found funny was after Love Is Everywhere (Beware) when Jeff commented about that song being from Ode To Joy, "the record we were gonna come here to play for you before all the joy happened." Except that the band actually wasn't originally supposed to come to Olympia on that run of Western shows back in March and April 2020; this current trifecta of tertiary-market shows in Eugene, Ore., Olympia, Wash., and Bellingham, Wash., were added later and only after some other shows on the original run were scrapped. Oops!

 

I would be remiss if I didn't at least spend one paragraph mentioning a few of the songs from the 1 hour, 54 minute set, most notably the four-song run early on of War On War, How To Fight Loneliness, Sunken Treasure (which amazingly hadn't been played on American soil in nearly four years) and Laminated Cat. Sunken Treasure was a stunner to me, while Laminated Cat continues to be a delight if you enjoy not only lyrics about leftover Halloween candy but also guitar freakouts and thumping percussion, which definitely happened in the outro section. And then there was the zany pacing of the end of the main set with Jesus, etc., followed by I Got You (At The End Of The Century), California Stars and then Poor Places>Reservations...like what is happening here?

 

I could probably go on a little more about this surprising but enjoyable little show, but I guess I'll leave it there for now. Suffice it to say that the tertiary market is alive and well, and that sometimes your preconceived notions about a place and a performance are right on — and then sometimes they go right out the window. Thankfully in this case, the latter was true.

 

Here was the complete Wilco setlist, as played (I glanced at a printed setlist and didn't spot any changes/omissions):

 

A Shot In The Arm

Random Name Generator

Side With The Seeds

One And A Half Stars

War On War

How To Fight Loneliness

Sunken Treasure

Laminated Cat (aka Not For The Season)

If I Ever Was A Child

Impossible Germany

Love Is Everywhere (Beware)

Forget The Flowers

Hummingbird

Box Full Of Letters

Everyone Hides

Dawned On Me

Jesus, etc.

I Got You (At The End Of The Century)

California Stars

Poor Places>

Reservations

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

I'm Always In Love

Heavy Metal Drummer>

I'm The Man Who Loves You

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And before I forget, here was the Young Fresh Fellows' opening setlist (with founding member Chuck Carroll apparently in attendance, it might have been their best set of the tour so far):

 

This Is Gonna Be A Good Show (improv song)

Where Is Groovy Town?

Suck Machine Crater

Middle Man Of Time

Becky Doll

Barky's Spiritual Store

Never Had It Bad

Young Fresh Fellows Theme

Taco Wagon>

Picture Book [The Kinks]

Ain't It Alright [NRBQ]

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Sunken Treasure!

 

And How to Fight Loneliness! It took me a few dozen shows to finally hear this one live (at Radio City on the pre-pandemic East Coast OTJ run). So I'm always happy to see it pop up again. Must've made for a lovely, wistful one-two punch with ST.

 

Thanks for the report, Paul!

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It really was a strange room.  The shallow floor section, along with the practically vertical 3-layer balcony, made the room taller than it was deep, and not very wide either.  As mentioned above, the band set up behind the curtain line, which made the front 15' lip of the stage this weird wooden expanse between the front row and the stage monitors.  The sound board was set up behind the last row of seats on the floor, which meant that you had to walk in the 3' narrow walkway BEHIND Stan and Jeremy to get to the far side of the floor seats. 

The crowd sat for the Fellows, who didn't really seem to mind and played another delightful set, opening up with that "improv" song - a slow little calming ditty about how the show was gonna be great, which kinda settled the unsuspecting audience into a lull before taking us all to Groovy Town. 

The respectful audience that Paul mentioned was indeed a nice break from the hootin and hollerin crowds earlier .  After Poor Places, you could hear a pin drop as Jeff started into Reservations, with nary a "yay" or a "woo" till the song closed out the main set.  Very refreshing. 

Sunken Treasure was for sure the highlight of the show for me.  Great to hear that one come back into rotation. 

 

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I loved this venue for several reasons: a.) the unusual architecture made for beautiful acoustics and sound quality,  b.)fairly certain this will be the smallest venue I manage to see them perform in during my lifetime, c.)the smaller stage forced the guitar wranglers/sound engineers into viewable space and made them a visible part of the stage show.  Made me truly appreciate the musical gifts they must possess to be able to tune an incredible # of instruments into different keys or alternate tunings, under time pressure, with loud music blasting all around you.  No way I could ever do this.  d.) Like both P and V mentioned, the audience was engaged and at one with the band and it was so refreshing to experience the silence and awe instead of having to endure heckling or drunk conversations.

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