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Wilco — 16 March 2024, Melbourne, Australia (The Forum) [Night 1 of 3]

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The start of a three-night run in Melbourne brings with it the same sort of energy it does anywhere around the world, I suppose. It's a place the band has played relatively often over the years — often, at least by Australian standards — and has built up a certain comfort level with the audience. And it's interesting to see old friendships renewed and some new ones made, depending on who has come out for the shows and who has been able to travel from where this time around. I suppose you meet more than a few folks as well who have journeyed here because their own home cities/countries have been left out of this round of touring (ahem, Perth and New Zealand).


All came together at the lovely Forum in downtown Melbourne, a venue the band has played in before but apparently which has undergone a fairly significant refurbishment since the last time, including an increase of its standing-room capacity to 2,000 from 1,500. The wide room has kind of a neo-classical vibe with some Greco-Roman statues at the sides and a painted-sky ceiling with twinkling stars, but offers pretty good sightlines all around (including some interesting booths clustered around the soundboard that maybe our own theashtraysays can comment on) and yet still feels pretty intimate at the front because the stage is only about three feet high.


"This really is one of our favorite places to play, so thanks for inviting us back," Jeff at the start of the encore, presumably referring to Melbourne as a whole and not just the Forum though he didn't exactly specify. "Sorry it's been so long."


Before I forget to mention it, I have to say that I thought that of all the shows in Australia so far, the sound tonight seemed like it was the best. I don't know if there was a particular reason for that, such as standing in front of a particular fill monitor or something, but the sound — and in particular, the sound mix — was really solid for maybe the first time. I could actually hear Nels' guitar pretty crisply in the mix despite being somewhat on the other side of the stage and that doesn't always happen, so I was happy about that. It made a difference, obviously, during the guitar workouts we got in the set tonight, such as Bird Without A Tail/Base Of My Skull and Impossible Germany, but even more so on songs like Side With The Seeds and Theologians on which Nels has little isolated solo parts.


As usual, it took Jeff a little while to warm up his bantering "muscle" but he exercised it a bit in the exact same spot he had the night before when he jabbed Canberra prior to Random Name Generator. "We were in your capital last night, and we set them straight," Jeff quipped. "You're welcome."


Of course, Jeff was also more than happy to pick on one of his other favorite foils overseas, The Ugly, Loud American (even if this particular one wasn't being all that ugly or loud). It happened one song right after RNG when a few people began to loosen up a bit and yell random comments and Jeff went to one of his standbys of how now was the point in the show when the band like to go around and hear from each person in the audience individually. At this point, someone toward the front and center raised his hand, caught Jeff's eye and was given the floor. In a non-Australian accent, he said how he hoped to hear War On War but that RNG had been awesome and thanked Jeff and the band for coming ("you made my year.") Jeff replied, "Are you American? We came all the way here and we want to hear from Australians, so shut the fuck up, OK?" Then, off mike, he mouthed at the guy, "Just kidding." One song later, he joking asked, "Did the American guy leave yet?" It was all in good fun, though it might not translate as well in writing.


Other than once again being occasionally distracted by a security guard distributing cups of water to the audience and pausing the starts of songs to enable said distribution to take place, Jeff didn't have much else of note to say for the rest of the night except for one other visit to Banter Corner when he briefly introduced Box Full Of Letters. "(When we played recently) in Japan, there was a kid wearing an A.M. hat," Jeff said. "I don't know what it means. Maybe that rocking will break through one of these years."


Ultimately, the question of varying the setlist over the rest of the run came up and Jeff took his usual unscientific poll near the end of the show about how many people were coming the following night. When not that many people raised their hands, apparently, Jeff made his oft-told joke about how that was good and how that meant the band could play the exact same set the next night. But of course he immediately relented and said that of course they would play some different songs — just how many remains to be seen.


For the encore on Night 1, at least, things remained status quo for a first-night setlist during this run of shows in Australia: Via Chicago, California Stars, Spiders (Kidsmoke). Just before California Stars, Jeff looked over and seemed to recognize a familiar face in the front row. I'm not sure if it was because he was about to play a Mermaid Avenue song that made him think of it, or if it was just a coincidence, but there was unquestionably a nod of sorts to one of our resident old-time VCers (and Melbourne-area natives) froggie, who happened to be standing right next to me. So that was pretty cool. Here's hoping for some more good vibes on Night 2 and another night of fun to be had.


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


Hell Is Chrome

Handshake Drugs


I Am My Mother

Cruel Country

I Am Trying To Break Your Heart

If I Ever Was A Child

Side With The Seeds

Random Name Generator

Bird Without A Tail/Base Of My Skull



Box Full Of Letters

Jesus, etc.

Impossible Germany

Whole Love


Heavy Metal Drummer

The Late Greats

A Shot In The Arm


Via Chicago

California Stars

Spiders (Kidsmoke)

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Great show as Paul said. Its true that they increased the standing room to 2000. They last played there in 2010. The banter was great, and asking "is that Froggie here" and especially the quip about played in the capital and sorting them out!


He took a pop at me as well, squinting and asking "is that Froggie there? :D. Nice to meet some new people there, including our Chief, Paul!


Jeff also was amused by the staff there that were handing out water to the people near the front in between every song. he kept on stalling until they finished handing out the water and told us to keep hydrated. i was expecting him to ask for some himself. it wasnt really hot, but warmish but it did stuffy at times.


I'll let Paul to the full honours for the 2nd show last night. Jeff told us near the end of the first show that they'll play the same songs next time (sarcastically), but they changed it around quite a bit last night. instead of wasting nearly 15 minutes on Spiders they threw in the old Being There rockers instead. lets see if the "shake it off" again tonight!


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Booth Report:

We were clued in on the existence of these “booths” by local Melbourne-ite @eckythump, and for this “night 1” show (which was actually the final added night of three) we decided that our little group could use a night off our collective feet and chucked in the extra bucks to reserve part of one of the ~20 booths. These are located behind the soundboard and elevated above that massive main floor. There are even a couple more elevated areas behind the booths with rails that seemed quite popular with the locals who wanted that same elevated view without the cushy booth seats (or surcharge). The booths were semi-circles that each held up to 8 people (though ours and pretty much all the others I saw were less than full) arranged in two rows that spanned the width of the venue. 
They were certainly comfortable enough, with fine sight lines and great sound. But they were quite a bit further back than I expected, and the vibe was definitely like watching from your living room sofa. The lone fellow who attempted to stand was promptly shouted down, and down was the rule of the evening. While it was a nice change of pace from the other shows I’d attended on this run, the conclusion was that this just wasn’t my tribe.
Maybe when I’m a bit older. 
Back to the sidewalk tomorrow….

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