A week ago, Wilco rolled through the Greater Austin Area and became the second act to play the new Cedar Park Center (it was built to house the Dallas Stars minor league affiliate).
For someone who lives in Austin and does his damnedest to never go past the Regal Cinema in Arbor Hills, the location was already a bit of an inconvenience, as it's about 15 miles (purely a guess there) past that theater. For those of you unfamiliar with Cedar Park, it is pretty much Bum Fuck, Nowhere.
So pulling in to the parking lot, it was great to find out that not only did I get to drive to Cedar Park to see Wilco, but I also got to pay $10 to park in an area where there was absolutely nowhere else to park within a reasonable walk because there is absolutely nothing else nearby.
Then we got inside, and it was a very unlikely place for a Wilco concert, what with the Pizza Hut concession stand and the other weird amenities that one would assume are at a quasi-suburban minor league hockey arena.
Finding our seats, it was soon obvious that despite paying for floor seats, we were further away from the stage than just about every normal seat in the house.
At this point, it would seem as though I was one unhappy camper. There was certainly a lot of hassle to see Wilco, but they do occupy a pretty lofty place amongst my personal list of favorite bands, and I have gone to greater lengths to see Wilco/Jeff Tweedy solo, so these setbacks would not have qualified as deal-breakers.
Liam Finn got on stage with his 'band', and my initial reaction was that I felt bad for him. From where we were sitting, it was hard to decipher if the seemingly subdued crowd was even awake for his set. Maybe risking life and limb driving out to the boonies had left everyone shell-shocked. Whatever the case may have been, Liam Finn did his best to get the crowd involved during his loop-laden set. Unfortunately for him, in this setting that didn't seem like it was enough.
After an intermission, on came Wilco, and from the start they were bringing it. Unfortunately the venue was so cold--in both temperature and vibe--that it was hard to tell how the audience was responding. That made it a little difficult to get really into the show.
As for the set, the regular pre-encore set was almost entirely YHF-to-present, which I get, but it started to worry me because I like to get a good balance in my Wilco shows. It was cool to see the new tracks live, but all things being said, I was much more excited to see the Sky Blue Sky songs live on that tour than I was for this tour for Wilco (The Album). Of the new songs, "Bull Black Nova", "One Wing", and "Wilco (The Song)" played particularly well. The first transcendent moment probably happened during Nels' insane solo in "Impossible Germany". It was jaw-dropping.
Insofar as Tweedy's between song banter was concerned, he comically urged people to tweet about how much better Austin was as a music town than Minneapolis. He also repeatedly lamented (without being entirely ungrateful) the fact that they weren't playing two shows in Austin (read: playing Stubb's, which for all its shortcomings is sooooooooo much better than the Cedar Park Center). Perhaps most importantly, he re-gifted an autographed Nolan Ryan baseball to "Patrick" in the crowd for his birthday. When giving the ball away, he posited that everyone in attendance must be Nolan Ryan fans, being in Texas and all, and then acted out the famous Robin Ventura beat down. That may have been my favorite moment in the show, but I'm kind of a baseball fan...
Once they started into the first encore, the older tunes were unfurled. The two encores were marked with greater highs. "Hoodoo Voodoo", which is really the only track that is completely changed from its originally recorded incarnation, is now a really great rollick featuring a great solo duel between Pat Sansone and Nels Cline. The changes to the song are very welcome, as it's probably my least favorite song on either of the Mermaid Avenue releases, but hearing it this way makes me want to hear it again. Gems "Monday" and "Outta Site (Outta Mind)" (the closer) always bring the house down and did not disappoint.
Perhaps the best part of seeing the show in the sticks was that a good quarter of the crowd headed for the doors after Wilco left for the second time, and missed the second encore. This also meant that the floor opened up a bit and the much shorter TSLF was able to see unobstructed for the last four or five songs.
Now, Wilco did everything within their power to fill that cold cavern with rock and succeeded for the most part. The place was just finished like a month ago (George Strait is the only other artist to have performed there), so it would have been impossible for them to book the show with any sort fo knowledge as to how it was going to play. Early on the talent seemed to have concerns. Those concerns were valid. I'd be shocked if Wilco ever plays there again, despite the larger capacity. After all, they can sell Stubb's out on consecutive nights, and that's a total of 3,600 tickets if memory serves me correctly. The Cedar Park Center was not especially large (I'm pretty sure it is smaller than the La Crosse Center, where the storied Catbirds played, so this would be small for an old CBA arena) and is not a place to see music.
I know I'll not be seeing any more shows there.
But I will pay good money to see Wilco again. And again. And again.
Hell, this was my seventh time not counting the time I saw Jeff Tweedy solo.