Concert Review: Wilco – Murat Theatre, Indianapolis, IN (06/15/07)

We had three tickets to see Wilco and only two people to go. A friend who belonged to the other ticket had to cancel at the last moment. I had posted to message boards and asked friends to come, but no one responded.

Free tickets to see one of the greatest live bands playing today and no one responded. I think I need to find new friends.

So we arrived at the venue early, hoping we might find some hapless soul willing to buy the one ticket. Almost immediately we found some guys on bikes with signs saying they were buying tickets. There was a little haggling, and I found myself on the losing end of that. Ten bucks and I was free one ticket. That’s a lot less than I paid, but a little more than nothing.

The Murat is a beautiful old theatre in downtown Indianapolis. Having arrived early to unload the ticket and having already done such, we walked into the entryway of the theatre to await the doors to open. Many folks were already there. An odd thing this was to me as we had assigned seats so there was literally no reason to arrive so early, but there we were.

Our earliness was paid off as a young man came out stating that the band had asked him take fan requests. My mind went racing. I was dying to come up with something obscure and unique – something that the band would see and love and no doubt talk about from the stage. Maybe even ask me to come on down and sing it with them.

Instead, I came up with something off the new album, something they would undoubtedly play even without my request. “Hate it Here” is possibly my favorite song off of Sky Blue Sky, and I was most anxious to hear those Stones riffs live.

Sitting back down I encouraged my wife to choose something but she’s shy about these things, and couldn’t come up with anything. I suggested “Outtasite (Outta mind)” off of an older album, Being There, and she stood up to make the request.

“No, wait,” I said, “pick something off of the Woody Guthrie tribute.” “What’s the name of the one with the repeat? Oh yes, it’s ‘Walt Whitman’s Niece,’ choose that one.”

Yes, I know that’s one that Billy Bragg sang lead on, but Wilco played most of the music and they did the backup parts, which would be awesome live with all the audience singing the repeat.

The wife goes and makes the request coming back with a puzzled look. A few minutes later she begins cursing herself, when I ask why she says, “Walt Whitman’s Knees.”

What?” I ask.

“I wrote the song down as ‘Walt Whitman’s Knees.’ I knew that wasn’t right when I wrote it but I couldn’t think of the right name.”

We laughed and laughed at that. I hoped, I prayed Tweedy would see it and laugh with the band and say something about my silly wife from the stage.

We had quite literally the last seats in the house – upper balcony, last row, very last seats stage left. My view was a little obstructed by an archway, but overall the stage was quite visible.

A band I had never heard of, Low, opened. I won’t say they were bad, but I won’t deny it either. I normally do my best to dig an opening band. I usually get very angry at the crowd when they talk through the opening act. This time, I was kind of with them.

It isn’t that the music wasn’t any good, it was they were in the wrong venue, opening for the wrong band. They had a very relaxed, ethereal feel – think Mazzy Star or Luna and you’ll come close. For the wide-open acoustics of the Murat, they sounded too muddled. When we’re all jazzed to hear the loud, ruckus of Wilco, relaxed and ethereal is not what we want, or not what I wanted anyway.

Luckily their set was short and Wilco came out with a fury. I tried writing down their setlist, but it was so dark in my little corner that I quickly realized there is no way I would be able to read my scratchings. And looking at them now, they are all a mess.

This is the tightest band in show business. Even though half the members have only been with the band a few short years, they play like a well-oiled machine. Nells Cline, the guitarist, is especially amazingly awesome. The guy simply tore it up. The roof was on fire, let me tell you.

They stuck primarily to songs off of their last three albums. I don’t know if this was because Tweedy likes his newer stuff more, of that most of the band hasn’t been on board for longer than those albums, or these are just the songs the fans prefer to hear. This fan would have appreciated some more older stuff, but I take what I can get.

From our in-the-rafter seats the sound was a little less than spectacular and I struggled to differentiate between some of the instruments, but the band was playing like Moses on fire. Enthusiasm oozed from everybody as they jumped and shook and moved like a giant, twitching snake.

About mid-show they played “Hate It Here” and I had to poke my wife with a little “they’re playing this for me” even though most likely they would have played it without my request. Still, it added a fun element to the show, which I would guess is the very reason they do the requests.

It was a darn fine version too, what with the big sing-along chorus and the fun lyrics about washing clothes and what-not. The whole show was filled with a nice little moment and fun sing-alongs. Although, every time I see Wilco I am reminded of how few of their lyrics I actually know.

I’m just not a lyrics guy. I have a terrible short-term memory and as such, I have difficulty remembering lyrics past the moment they are sung. Instead, I concentrate on the music and turn into one of those flailing arms to the beat of the guitar riff guys.

There was a lot of arm pumping this night. After a double encore with the surprise old album shot of “Outtasite (Outta Mind)” we went home happy.

They never did play “Walt Whitman’s Niece” and no one but me made fun of my wife’s mistake, but even so it was a darn fine night of music.

Setlist:

1. A Shot In The Arm
2. Side With The Seeds
3. You Are My Face
4. I Am Trying To Break Your Heart
5. Kamera
6. Handshake Drugs
7. War On War
8. Impossible Germany
9. Sky Blue Sky
10. Jesus, Etc.
11. Hate It Here
12. Walken
13. Shake It Off
14. I’m The Man Who Loves You
15. Hummingbird

Encore 1:
16. Sunken Treasure
17. Spiders (Kidsmoke)

Encore 2:
18. Heavy Metal Drummer
19. Outtasite (Outta Mind)
20. California Stars

Thanks to Wilcobase for the setlist.

Concert Review: Bill Monroe Bluegrass Festival Featuring IIIrd Tyme Out And Ralph Stanley, 2007

My wife and I have lived in Bloomington Indiana now for the last five years or so. While living here there are several things we have always planned to do: see an IU football game, not for the game (for no one wants to see the Hoosiers play football) but because my wife is a band geek, and she’d like to see the marching band perform. We’d like to go to a basketball game, as basketball is the one sport IU consistently does well. We feel we ought to see the Indy 500 and the Kentucky Derby just once, though neither of us can gather up any kind of excitement for that. And we always plan to attend the Bill Monroe bluegrass festival.

Until this week, we’ve seen exactly none of those things. Since we are headed to China in August, we finally decided to buckle down and attend the bluegrass festival. Even then, we had plans to attend every night of the eight-day festival, but due to problems of infinite proportions, we were only able to make it Tuesday and Saturday.

You could say bluegrass is in my blood, though I didn’t know it for many years. My great-uncle played with Dolly Parton when she was little, and my cousin plays guitar in Ricky Skaggs band. Most of my dad’s family plays some sort of instrument, and they say family reunions are a sight and sound to behold.

None of this information was actually known to me for many years. I thought we were a pretty boring family for most of my youth. In fact, I can remember my parents deciding to go to a bluegrass festival when I was in my early teens and I had to ask what the heck bluegrass was.

“It’s like country, but faster and with more twang,” Mom told me.

The Bill Monroe Bluegrass Festival is the oldest bluegrass festival in the world. It has been picking and a grinning for the last 41 years. Everyone who is anyone in bluegrass has played this stage. This year over 50 acts played morning, noon, and night for 8 straight days.

On Tuesday we saw Karl Shiflett, Anita Fisher, Bluegrass Strangers and IIIrd Tyme Out. It was a full day of fun, sun, and good music.

There were rows and rows of lawn chairs set up in front of the stage and we couldn’t quite figure out if they were all owned by individual concertgoers, or if they had been set up by the venue. They were all unmatched, but most of them were empty and they were perfectly set up. It seemed strange to me that so many people would have come in and set up their chairs in neat little rows and then abandoned them.

This worked perfectly on Tuesday, and we found great seats just a few rows back from the stage, and right in the middle.

IIIrd Tyme Out was the highlight of Tuesday. Russell Moore has some of the best vocals in bluegrass and the rest of the band can pick right along with him. They can play traditional bluegrass like the old folks, but aren’t afraid to add something new to the mix and update those old sounds. Plus they are a ton of fun to listen to and watch.

Saturday was much fuller than the Tuesday afternoon crowd, and we were all there to see one man, Dr Ralph Stanley. Legend is too small a word for the man. He is the living embodiment of bluegrass music. He is distinguished and incredible. A giant in a little man’s shoes.

We took seats again up close, but after a few songs, someone approached us stating that we were, in fact, in their chairs. Looking around and seeing how full the venue was getting, we decided to pull our own lawn chairs out of the car and sit to the side so as to not miss anything.

We saw very enjoyable performances from Alecia Nugent, Paul Williams, Jim Lauderdale, JD Crowe and of course Dr. Ralph Stanley. As I said though, the crowd was all holding their breath for Ralph Stanley. When the time finally came, and the announcement was made, we all went nuts.

For the first few songs Stanley didn’t sing a note. He allowed his band to play instrumentals and his guitarist sing a tune or two. I began to wonder if the good Dr. hadn’t fallen ill and couldn’t sing, or if he was too old to do much more than joke with the band between songs.

My worries were unfounded, it seems, as Stanley finally took center stage, and enchanted us all with his distinctive voice. His voice is not what I would ever call beautiful, it is certainly original, and it delivers a perfect old-timey sound. It roared and called out to the crowd on this night.

Stanley is a generous performer and spent much of his long set talking about the records his band mates and children have recently put out. Most of the band got to perform at least one song, and in a very sweet moment a little boy from the area came out and nervously belted out an old Stanley Brothers tune.

Even with three encores the crowd screamed and begged for more. Stanley closed with an a capella version of “O Death” that I believe must have stilled the entire state.

We left a little after 11. Kids were still playing ball and freeze tag, the food vendors were still churning out their unique brand of edibles, the stars were still shining brightly, and the music was still playing. But we were hot, covered in dirt and completely exhausted.

You could do worse things on a summer Saturday night in Indiana.