Headliners Wilco seemed to have found their niche in Bend where their blend of mashup alt-country-pop-rock and discord melodies resonate with our musical and cultural schizophrenia (The epic Wilco-Beck weekend is to be followed this week by former Doobie Brother Michael McDonald and an unnecessarily reunited Stone Temple Pilots). But we digress.
Back to Saturday night... frontman Jeff Tweedy took the stage at 7:30 sharp dressed in black, but in a seemingly light mood. Exchanging barbs with audience members, he carried on a casual monologue through the entire show, which included topics like the connection between Radiohead and Wilco (there is none), the emerging Lawncore movement, the impact of rock and roll (specifically Wilco) on women's fertility and an impromptu PSA for Bend's Breedlove guitars (the band's acoustic axe of choice). Between the banter, Wilco managed to put on an epic - by Les Schwab Amphitheater standards - show that spanned the band's entire decade-plus catalog of music with as much emphasis on earlier work as their most recent efforts, including the stellar Sky Blue Sky. Highlights included a shimmering "Impossible Germany" and an awesomely dark "Spiders/Kidsmoke" to round out the band's roughly hour and fifteen minute set. Thankfully, the lights stayed down and the house music was nowhere to be heard as the band took a quick breather and marched through two encores.
All told, the band played for roughly two hours and fifteen minutes - a mark that we venture to guess is a record at the notoriously miserly LSA. The show culminated with a stirring rendition of the spiritual "I Shall Be Released," at which time Fleet Foxes returned to the stage to share microphone duties.
By the time the house lights came up it was clear that Wilco had done what no other bands had done, at least in our memory, play an honest to goodness actual set of music at Les Schwab. As Tweedy and Co. exited stage left, telling grateful audience members that they'd "See us later," it felt like they just might.
We returned to the LSA on Sunday and avoiding any pre-show fajita, burrito, nacho or any other Mexican food parties, made it to the amphitheater in time to see LA's much-talked-about Cold War Kids. Living up to the hype, the quartet thundered through a 45-plus minute set full of some samples of their Loyalty to Loyalty record that is slated for a late-September release. A growing crowd consisted of a few hundred die-hard Cold War fans surrounded by several thousand increasingly interested bystanders whose applause grew as the set progressed.
But it was clear that most of LSA was there for one reason, or one man, to be exact. His hair is longer, his sets a bit shorter and his band a few members smaller, but damn does Beck still have it and anyone who wedged themselves into a packed Schwab on Sunday night, Sound Check included, can attest to that. Dressed in a suit with shoulder-length hair tucked under a floppy hat, Beck strode onto the stage and launched into a punk infused rendition of 1994's "Loser," much to the delight of a bouncing audience.
Flanked by a band of only four others (much smaller than other ensembles he's toured with) Beck sped through four or so numbers, a mix of cuts from Guero and The Information, with a few tracks from his new Modern Guilt, all of which seemed to run at about one and a half times the original tempo. Then, donning a massive headphone-and-microphone apparatus atop his dome, Beck joined his band, all armed with drum machines and hand-held synthesizers, for electronic fueled takes on "Black Tambourine" and "Hell Yes." An audience clearly unfamiliar with hip-hop concert behavior nonetheless waved hands in the air and did so quite swimmingly.
Making it two nights in a row of solid encores, Beck returned to the stage to dig into Odelay, prompting Les Schwabians to clap their hands (bottles and cans) for everyone's favorite alterna-rock-rap crossover "Where It's At" before speeding through "Devil's Haircut" and closing things down with "E-Pro."
Sound Check left, knowing that curfew had fallen and Beck, whether he liked it or not, would not be returning to the stage, but that didn't stop a couple thousand fans from remaining front and center for a good 25 minutes.
You just don't get that sort of devotion from Michael McDonald fans, do you? - Ric E. James and Mike Bookey