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Wilco — 12 October 2023, Los Angeles, CA (The Bellwether) [Night 2 of 2]

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Having been fortunate enough to see Wilco perform in all kinds of venues over the years, I think I can safely say that a club like the Bellwether — where tonight the band finished up an extended run of concerts and other activities in Los Angeles with the second of two shows at the new adjacent-to-downtown spot — is just about the perfect one for Jeff and his bandmates to do what they do best. It's intimate enough for the band to form a real connection with its audience, to literally see who they're playing for, and for that audience to get relatively up close and personal if they choose, and to participate in the show when appropriate.


More than I can remember at other shows, Jeff really exhorted the crowd to sing along at various points the past couple of nights — even occasionally during one of the new songs from Cousin. And when the audience really responded in kind, like during an intense A Shot In The Arm tonight, it seemed to give the band a particular boost of energy.


Of course, the intimacy afforded by a smallish venue can unfortunately be a two-way street. I can't tell you how many times I've seen some drunken person push their way to front and try to make a song request or otherwise engage Jeff in a personal conversation, and rarely does it turn out well for anyone. Awkward audience interactions can derail a show for a moment or for the rest of the evening, depending on how things go. And years from now, if I remember much about this particular concert, I think I'll probably remember it for the moment about halfway through when a couple of people threatened to take the show off the rails before Jeff regained his grip on the controls and did his best to ensure a smooth landing.


The thing with audience interactions is that sometimes you're not exactly sure what's happening or what's being said, depending your vantage point. That wasn't the problem tonight for me and the friends with whom I was standing — at the rail in front of Nels — because it was just our luck that the disrupters did their disrupting literally right next to us. Just before Wilco took the stage, a couple consisting of a man in a wheelchair and a woman I presume was his girlfriend/wife sort of nudged their way to the front next to where we were standing. Since it wasn't overly crowded, I think the man I had initially been standing next to moved over to his right a bit and allowed the wheelchair guy to pull right up to the rail. His partner then sat on his lap and they watched the first half of the show mostly like that. They were a bit loud — my friend had to shush them once during a quieter song — and proceeded to take a ton of selfies and videos with one of their phones. And when they weren't doing that, they were basically making out. OK, they were a bit much...but basically not bothering anybody too, too much.


Things, however, came to a head after Impossible Germany when a young woman who I can only assume was a bit overserved sidled up right behind the wheelchair couple and began yelling at Jeff, trying to get his attention. Finally he relented and let her speak, and what came out was some rambling monologue that at first seemed to be a request for Kamera but then turned into something about her dad and how his favorite song was Hell Is Chrome and could they play that one? Eventually Jeff gracefully put her off and she went away, and Jeff joked about reaching the part of the show when he had a conversation with each audience member individually.


No sooner had Jeff uttered those words than the wheelchair guy decided that would be the perfect time to speak up. He launched into a brief soliloquy about how his late brother had been such a big fan, Sunken Treasure was his favorite song and could Jeff and his bandmates play that one for him? Jeff did his best to deflect the request, explaining how they weren't prepared to play that song tonight, and that they had a lot of moving parts on stage set up for the songs they did plan to play. The wheelchair guy carried on, bringing up his dead brother again, and Jeff replied that he was very sorry and that he hoped the brother's memory would be a blessing. Realizing he probably wasn't going to be successful with the song request, the man tried to salvage a result and asked Jeff if he would dedicate something — anything — to the brother. Jeff, probably sensing he could end this awkward episode if he relented, clarified what the man wanted and then asked the brother's name. Finally, with the wheelchair man filming as ever, Jeff looked into the phone camera, pointed at it and announced, "Jade, this one's for you." And thus ended another episode of Audience Chats With Jeff. Oy vey.


The thing was, as another friend pointed out, the wheelchair guy was actually a fan — or at least seemed to be. When he wasn't taking videos or making out with his woman friend, he seemed to be genuinely into the music. (His companion, by contrast, was apparently not because she would periodically seem to get sick of the show and step away, only to come back and resume her carousing with the man.) Anyway, it's hard for me to understand how an alleged fan could be so selfish and inject themselves into a show like that, much less make a spectacle of themselves right in the front row. And lest you think I'm exaggerating, you know someone has crossed some kind of line when Wilco's tour manager comes down and instructs a security guard to tell them they aren't allowed to take any more phone videos.


Maybe it was just the kind of night for awkward audience interactions. A song before all of that happened, Jeff made one of his only real visits to Banter Corner when he apparently misheard another audience's members request for If I Ever Was A Child. "Are you telling me to fucking smile?" Jeff asked, seemingly out of nowhere and in typical deadpan Jeff fashion. "I've been smiling all night. This is my smile." When he was informed it was actually a song request, he pivoted to jokingly chiding the audience member for not following the proper protocol for song requests as required by upper management.


The only other real visit to Banter Corner came near the end of the main set, after the rollicking Meant To Be, when Jeff quipped that people would be asking for that song — eventually. "You'll want to hear it in two years," he said of the closing track from Cousin. "We should be playing Ode To Joy songs right now." Whatever challenges he might have faced with the audience tonight — and really, it was just the one disruptive moment — nevertheless, Jeff persisted. Whereas such an episode might have thrown him off at one point in his career, Jeff handled it about as well as one could tonight and that enabled he and his bandmates to not only present the show they wanted to present, but also to make a it a fun one for the vast majority of those in attendance.


Here was the complete setlist, as played, for Night 2 at the Bellwether (a brief glance at the printed list revealed that At Least That's What You Said and Falling Apart (Right Now) were the planned first two songs of the encore, but neither were played):


Infinite Surprise

Handshake Drugs


I Am My Mother

Cruel Country

I Am Trying To Break Your Heart

One Wing



Sunlight Ends

Whole Love

Impossible Germany

Jesus, etc.


Via Chicago>

Many Worlds (coda only)

California Stars

Box Full Of Letters

Meant To Be

Heavy Metal Drummer

A Shot In The Arm


Spiders (Kidsmoke)

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20 hours ago, bböp said:

The thing with audience interactions is that sometimes you're not exactly sure what's happening or what's being said, depending your vantage point. That wasn't the problem tonight for me and the friends with whom I was standing — at the rail in front of Nels — because it was just our luck that the disrupters did their disrupting literally right next to us.


More to come...


Oh my now this is a tease!!



After hearing about the shenanigans today from Wilco diehards @theashtraysaysand @radiatortunesI have to say, I think it's kind of a selfish thing to request a song by yelling at the band midset. That's an uncomfortable position to put Jeff and co in.

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Thanks for the clarification about the disruption, bbop. I was only about ten feet to your right but couldn't make out a lot of what they were saying. I thought the "Hell Is Chrome" woman said something about it being the first song her father played for her or something to that effect, which made me feel very old. But I didn't even hear that it was "Hell Is Chrome" that she was requesting so I have no confidence that I heard the part about her father correctly.


The observation about the cease-and-desist on the cell-phone videos is interesting because I noticed in Santa Barbara last night that venue security was going out of its way to stop people who were filming on their phones. Because I was all the way in the last seat on the end in a curved row E, I had the front-of-stage-right security guy about three feet away from me, and he kept running into the audience to tell people to stop filming. I asked him if this was a venue policy since I don't recall the band discouraging videos. He said that the venue management had told the staff before the show that the band said video was not permitted, and they were continuing to so instruct him through his earpiece during the show. This is obviously secondhand information, but it's enough to wonder if the incident bbop describes at the Bellwether prompted a reaction by the band. This was, of course, a game of whack-a-mole and I'm sure there were still hundreds of people who took video.

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