|Photo courtesy of Katherine L. Ehle|
[purchase the studio version]
It struck me that I’ve been writing for this blog for about a year and a half without posting about one of my favorite bands, Wilco. Not on this blog, at least. I’ve seen Wilco perform a few times, and their shows are almost always memorable. My favorite one, however, was an outdoor show in 2009 at the minor league baseball stadium in Wappinger’s Falls, New York (home of the Hudson Valley Renegades). It was a beautiful summer night, I was there with my son, we stood close enough to the stage to hear well without being too close, and the band was incredible. Because it was at a baseball stadium, they shot Wilco t-shirts into the crowd between sets. And we got one.
I turned my son on to Wilco, and he became a big fan. In turn, my kids have introduced me to a number of musicians that I now enjoy, and Wilco’s opening act that night was an artist that my son loved, Conor Oberst. It took me a while to appreciate him, and I will argue that his music has improved over the years, as he has matured, become somewhat less affected and simplified his writing. I loved his later Bright Eyes album Cassadaga and his self-titled “solo” album. But on the tour in question, he was performing as “Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band,” making them theme-appropriate.
Some artists need to be reined in to prevent their excesses from overwhelming their brilliance, and I think the fact that even though Oberst was the clear leader, it was more of a band than a solo project, made their output extremely appealing. In fact, as much as I was looking forward to seeing Wilco, I was hoping for a good set from the opener.
And Conor and the Mystic Valley Band kicked ass. Their set consisted of mostly songs from their then-current album and the “solo” disc, and I even recognized most of them. The band put on a great show, and I think that they impressed and even converted most (if clearly not all) of the audience, some of whom sadly had no interest in appreciating the quality of the performance and just wanted to get on to the headliner. They set a high bar that night, and Wilco actually surpassed them, which is no shame.
“Danny Callahan,” from Oberst’s self-titled album, is one of my son’s favorites, and for good reason. A great, almost bouncy, melody is coupled with literate and uplifting lyrics, but about a very serious subject, the death of a young cancer patient, failed by “Western medicine”.
That night, my son and I stood in front of a large taping rig, and we later found out that the show was recorded and posted at the incredible nyctaper.com site, which offers a huge archive of interesting and usually amazingly well recorded live shows from the New York area. This recording is from that great evening, when my son and I saw two transcendent sets, standing in centerfield under the clear Hudson Valley sky.