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Wilco — 16 August 2023, Marbella, Spain (Starlite Occident)

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In the interest of full disclosure, until a few weeks ago, I completely intended to skip tonight's show at the scenic Starlite Occident complex in the hills above Marbella. There were several reasons for that, including the odd routing of this gig vis a vis the one before and the one after it as well as the advance word I had received from my local sources about the general vibe of this concert series, but ultimately I'm glad I was able to make the little bit of extra effort required to get there.


A little peek behind the curtain, perhaps, but typically I don't like to rent cars while traveling to shows in Europe and, amazingly, this was the first time I've ever had to do it. I mean, technically you can get to Starlite other ways (train/bus/taxi), but it would be pretty difficult — especially to get back to wherever you're staying after the show (which ended at midnight). So I rented a car and drove over from Malaga, about 45 minutes away, because it's also not the easiest thing to reach the renowned Costa del Sol city of Marbella via public transit. To get to Starlite, you exit the highway and wind your way uphill through these narrow streets on a drive that isn't unlike the one you take to reach the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles through Griffith Park if anyone has ever done that. Finally you reach a lot where you park and then catch a shuttle bus further up the hill and walk up a few more flights of stairs until you finally reach the entrance of the venue.


Said venue has two main areas, an outer section with several sit-down restaurants, various boutiques, bars, food stalls and a small stage, where you could easily spend the entire evening probably without even realizing there was a show going on inside the "auditorium," which is located on the other side of this huge grandstand (atop which there was naturally a VIP section of seating). Once inside the concert area, there were typical rows of seats as well as elevated platforms on either side of the stage. The stage was flanked by giant boulders that were almost reminiscent of Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Colorado, so it was definitely a picturesque locale, which Jeff noted during the 1-hour, 50-minute set.


"Do you like the mountains? We brought them with us," Jeff said, attempting to make a joke. "When we told them what kind of set we wanted (with a drawing) on a napkin, they said it couldn't be done, but we made it happen."


Jeff made inroads with the audience almost from the start, admiring the Hawaiian(?) shirts of a group to his right who he thought might be three generations of a family (if I heard what he said correctly). "Congrats, you look great," Jeff said to them. Then to the rest of the crowd, he added, "Don't worry, I'll comment on all your outfits between songs. Look sharp." He also poked fun at himself a little later on, evoking Pigpen, when he said he felt "like I'm the only one with bugs flying around me. My hygiene might not be great." The local insect population might have also briefly preoccupied Jeff's mind at another point during the show when he said off-mike — but still audibly — that he was scared of something he thought resembled a "flying ant or a wasp."


Despite the entomological concerns, the show was actually surprisingly good despite the sense I had gotten from some local friends beforehand and just from observing with my own eyes once I arrived that this wasn't going to be the best setting for a rock concert. I had been told to expect a bit of a posh scene with many people who go no matter who is performing and are there as much to socialize or just have a night out while on holiday as for the music. (Apparently this series is also known for its affiliation with the actor Antonio Banderas and there are definitely red carpet-type possibilities in the arrival area depending on the performer and how much of a gala-like event they want to make it. Fortunately the proceeds apparently largely go to charity, and there wasn't much evidence of glitz and glamour for Wilco, though you could tell that the crowd was generally pretty well-heeled.)


It didn't seem like the type of audience that would be on its feet the whole time, and indeed, it wasn't. But I have to say that it was probably one of the few shows I can remember where the audience remained seated the majority of the time and yet the energy level didn't drag. Perhaps it was the outdoor setting on a lovely evening, or just the general energy of a crowd that — like most everywhere in Spain — seemed to just love the band, but it seemed like Jeff and his bandmates were having a good time on stage and the audience was just generally receptive to whatever they did.


When an extended standing ovation was given to Nels and the band after Impossible Germany, Jeff quipped that "they don't know how to celebrate us in the United States." "But," he quickly added, "whenever we come here, it feels like a bit much, I have to say." After offering a simple "muchos gracias" to another round of applause, he also apologized sheepishly for not being able to express more in Spanish: "I apologize that I don't know how to say more than that after all these years. I should know how to say more." Speaking of miscommunication, there was also a funny bit late in the show, where I think someone in the crowd yelled a request for I'll Fight and Jeff misheard it as the guy saying, unsolicited, "I'm fine," and attempted to make a joke about a frontman who forgets to check in with an audience but they all individually just express how they're doing anyway.


The language barrier might still be a bit of an issue, but some things just transcend that — like the "olé, olé, olé" chants that are by now an expected part of any Spanish show and which the band seems to really enjoy (tonight's came at the start of the encore when the band returned to the stage and was encouraged by some percussion by Glenn) or the singing riff part at the end of Spiders (Kidsmoke), which tonight was supplemented with a little double-time clapping for good measure. So that's kind of what I mean when I say it was an audience that was pretty engaged despite not being the most energetic group ever. Things certainly could have been much worse; I wouldn't call this one an, ahem, Spanish bomb in Andalusia.


Here was the complete setlist, as played, in Marbella (I got a brief glimpse of a printed list and it didn't seem like there were any changes):


Handshake Drugs

I Am My Mother

Cruel Country

I Am Trying To Break Your Heart

If I Ever Was A Child

Company In My Back



Love Is Everywhere (Beware)

Bird Without A Tail/Base Of My Skull

Tired Of Taking It Out On You

Random Name Generator

Impossible Germany

Jesus, etc.

The Late Greats

Heavy Metal Drummer

A Shot In The Arm


Ashes Of American Flags

Falling Apart (Right Now)

Spiders (Kidsmoke)

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