Saturday, November 01, 2008

"Keep hope alive, and we'll see you on the other side of Tuesday."

Just came back from a Wilco concert / Obama rally, at Memorial Union. It was pretty amazing. Only half the band was there: Jeff Tweedy, John Stirratt, and Pat Sansone. They did acoustic renditions of some of my favourite Wilco songs.

Beforehand I had been joking around that the one thing they shouldn't do is play "Christ for President" from the Mermaid Avenue album. Critics already think Obama has a Christ complex. Anyway, they did play that song for some reason. The rest of the set was amazing though.

The theatre was packed. There were Obama buttons everywhere. I had decided to dress up, so I was wearing my awesome Ice Cream shoes that look like some sort of Sesame Street thing, or like clown shoes. I was looking pretty hip.

There were lots of students, of course, but also some adults and some children. Some people came from other parts of the state (I heard someone say they were from Kenosha, which is about 2 hours away).

Things started out with an Obama campaign guy talking about how people should vote early, and then volunteer to get the vote out over then next 3 days. Then Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold came out and shouted a few of Obama's catchphrases. This wasn't an event designed to win over new voters, these were Obama fans.

And then came Wilco. Jeff Tweedy had an acoustic guitar, Stirratt was on bass, and Sansone sat at a keyboard. They started with a Sky Blue Sky song that I didn't recognize ("What Light"), and then played their not very good Woody Guthrie song "Christ for President." Then they did "Passenger Side" from their first record. Then they got to the good stuff.

They did a beautiful version of "Jesus, etc." and followed with the A Ghost Is Born highlight "The Late Greats." If you look over their catalogue, Wilco has a lot of depressing songs. Tweedy joked about Obama's message of hope and the "hope gap" with Wilco's songs. Then they launched into the greatest of all Wilco Songs: "California Stars." The first time I saw the (whole) band live was at one of the Royal Vic shows (recorded for their live album), but they didn't play this song. So I was especially glad to hear it played today.

The theatre was dark, and people were seated, but during this middle part of the show a little kid kept getting away from his mother and sitting down in the aisle a few rows in front of me. I think he might have been bored.

"California Stars" was the highlight, but the rest of their set was also excellent. They covered Dylan's "I Shall Be Released," then played their excellent new song "Wilco The Song" (first played two days ago on the Colbert Report). From their banter, I guess it has something to do with "Joe the plumber." It's the better than anything on their last album.

Due to some mixup with the guitars, there was a long awkward wait before they played their last song. While Tweedy was talking with his guitar tech someone shouted out a request, (or question, I couldn't quite make it out), and someone else yelled "that's what she said." The crowd had a good laugh, and then someone asked Tweedy if the band was staying in Madison for Freakfest (Freakfest is Madison's official city sponsered, neutered version of the traditional UW halloween party). Obviously they had no idea what the fan was talking about... "Freakfest" was only introduced two, maybe three years ago. The band closed with "I'm the Man Who Loves You."

After Wilco left the stage, Madison's Congresswoman, Tammy Baldwin, spoke for a minute or two directing people to march to the capitol where they would vote early. As we left a small army of Obama campaign volunteers tried to get people to volunteer for campaign activities.

Since I can't vote, I didn't march with Baldwin. However, last week, I did volunteer to be a poll watcher on election day. It's not a partisan thing; I won't be selling independent voters on Obama, or anything like that. I think it will just entail handing people registration forms, and telling them what they need to have with them in order to get a ballot (proof of residence, ID, etc.). It should be interesting.

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