Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Wilco & Okkervil River @ Red Rocks

(Photo by Julio Enriquez, from this fantastic set I found at Flickr.)

I can't resist a good music-oriented vacation - not when the factors align themselves so perfectly.

So, with the following set of considerations in hand, understand that I really had no choice in the matter: I was trading searing desert heat for beautiful Mile-High weather; the round-trip flight was a steal at $150; I had a long Fourth of July weekend to take advantage of; one Wilco show this summer - at the the acoustically pleasant but beyond stiff Centennial Hall - wasn't going to be nearly enough; another band high on my list of favorites, Okkervil River, was going to be opening; I'd never been to Red Rocks; and besides, it was about time I paid a visit to the good Mr. Chair.

Red Rocks is certainly as advertised, a gloriously beautiful venue in the foothills of the Rockies. Squeezed into a natural amphitheater between taller-than-tall rock formations, Red Rocks plays with your head, simultaneously feeling humongous and intimate. A spectacular rain storm blew through earlier, and the horizon was framed in storm clouds and lightning for the show.

We camped out in the parking lot for a while, watching as Coloradan after Coloradan pulled camping chairs from Subaru wagons and those nautical looking Toyota SUVs. A Sideways crew of yuppies just down the line from us brought a picnic basket of wine, bread and cheeses. And they actually had people wheeling big recycling bins up and down the rows of tailgaters. The Red Rocks faithful sure know how to warm up pre-show.

Okkervil River went high-energy, doing their best to capture the attention of the stream of pre-buzzed folks still filing into the amphitheater. It was a quick and pounding set - mostly songs from the Stage Names and Stand-Ins - from a band that has only gotten better since eating Thanksgiving at my house six years ago (sure, I'll take a bit of credit). They were clearly thrilled to be opening for Wilco and playing Red Rocks. Will Sheff said his parents were at the show, and it was just his mother's second time at Red Rocks; the first was to see Jimi Hendrix in 1968.

(Photo by Julio Enriquez, from this fantastic set I found at Flickr.)

Wilco played probably the best show I've seen from the band (out of eight now), clearly enjoying the distinctive Red Rocks atmosphere. The 28-song set clocked in at just over two and a half hours, a good bit longer than the Centennial Hall show a couple weeks earlier.

The show began with The Price Is Right theme music and a two-dudes-under-a-costume camel being walked out across the front of the stage. Then the band's thank-you love-letter to fans, "Wilco (the song)," which looks like it'll be the show opener for a little while.

The set list drew heaviest from the new record and A Ghost Is Born, but had plenty of special surprises, including "Shouldn't Be Ashamed" and the John Stirrat-sung "It's Just That Simple," both A.M. gems I'd never before seen live. Jeff Tweedy said that Nels Cline's guitar solo on "Ashes of American Flags" was "epic." I'd agree, and add in "Impossible Germany," which has become pretty much my favorite Wilco song to see live.

Mr. Chair said he'd never seen me happier than I was when Okkervil River came back out to join Wilco in "California Stars," and he's pretty much on the ball with that one. Other highlights: "Misunderstood," "Bull Black Nova," "Spikers (Kidsmoke)," "Jesus, Etc." and "The Late Greats."

It was one of those rare shows I walked out of feeling a surging high, fully aware that I was well beyond fortunate to have spent the last few hours soaking up such a tremendous musical experience.

Jeff Tweedy interview on Chicago Public Radio


Ted said...

Download the show in both 16 and 24 bit format at the above link!

Catfish Vegas said...

Thanks man! And welcome to the blog.
Any idea if the Okkervil set was taped also?