8/8/08 Wilco and Bon Iver @ Koka Booth Ampitheatre, Cary, N.C.

The last time I was at Koka Booth Ampitheatre in Cary was in the fall of 2004 for a Bela Fleck concert. I was captured by the venue then; the way the pine trees were trickled amongst the lawn and the cool breeze floated from the body of water behind the stage.The last time I was at Koka Booth Ampitheatre in Cary was in the fall of 2004 for a Bela Fleck concert. I was captured by the venue then; the way the pine trees were trickled amongst the lawn and the cool breeze floated from the body of water behind the stage. There are a number of reasons I might have been so taken with my surroundings. We won’t get into that. What we will discuss is the fact that my recent trip to the outdoor pavilion to see Wilco and Bon Iver did not produce exactly the same effect.

Granted, the opener, Bon Iver, continued to show signs of why Justin Vernon is one of the most critically acclaimed up and coming artists out there. With his backing band of youngin’s, the ex-Raleigh- ite turned in a more than fine opening set. I was walking in as he finished a new song, so not much to report on it. However, his cover of “The Rainbow,” the first track from Talk Talk’s Garden of Eden, was nothing short of extraordinary. Seeing as Bon Iver had limited time, an experimental, nine-minute long song was an interesting set choice. Regardless, it worked, and Bon Iver carried the avant-garde nature of that number into other songs, such as “Creature Fear.” In the case of that song, spacy electronics, snarling drums and snakey baritone slide guitar made for towering jams, giving the set a certain imminent nature. After profusely thanking Wilco, the band closed out their set with “For Emma,” Vernon’s falsetto once again soaring to the top of the beautifully scuzzy heap. Performing in front of such a large crowd in his old town must have been a tremendous experience for the young artist.

Once the shine of Bon Iver’s set started to wear off, I began to take in the scene, noticing the slightly older crowd, as well as a Whole Foods booth and other dining options besides hot dogs and hamburgers, such as organic turkey wraps. Not to mention the VIP sections and Gold Circle seating options-nearly full-available in the venue. Clearly the Volkswagen people did their research before they decided to target the Upper Middle Class with their Wilco-scored advertisements.

To be honest, Wilco’s music has begun to represent this sort of vibe, as illustrated by the more restrained, dad-rocking nature of 2007’s Sky Blue Sky. There’s a consistency to their performances, one that can’t be knocked, but certainly one that doesn’t send this attendee reeling. Sure, they played an all-star, career-spanning first set, featuring songs like “Jesus, Etc.,” “Shot in the Arm,” “Impossible Germany,” “Missunderstood,” “Pot Kettle Black,” and “Spiders (Kidsmoke).” Everyone in the band was on, especially Nels Cline, but like the past few Wilco shows I have seen, it just seemed the same. It wasn’t until they added a horn section, The Total Pros, for their first encore, that they really caught my attention. That brass was a brilliant addition to songs like, “Hate it Here,” “Walken” and “I’m the Man Who Loves You.”

By that point the band had been playing for quite some time, and the crowd was really going nuts. So it wasn’t much of a surprise when Wilco came out for another encore. “The Late Greats,” “Red-Eyed and Blue,” and night closer “Hoodoo Voodoo” are certainly not to be argued with.

I’ve already mentioned their consistency. And you certainly can’t deny Wilco’s talent. In the end, it just wasn’t my night. But the more I look over this review, I realize that on paper it was quite a performance. In addition, everyone I attended the show with was blown away. I’m sure many will say that the stars aligned on 8/08/08 for the best Wilco performance they can remember. It just seemed stale to me. Maybe it was the vibe that turned me off. So long Koka Booth.

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ISAAC HAYES

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