INTERVIEW: Grass (Denver Westword 11/4/16)

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“Boulder Band Grass Is Young But Not Green”
by Adam Perry for Denver Wesword, 11/4/2016

The creative young Boulder trio Grass is indicative of the music being pushed over the last year by ambitious local cassette label First Base Tapes: gritty and experimental, but catchy, clever and (while ear-bleedin’ loud) deceptively pleasant.

Twenty-four-year-old singer/guitarist Michael Colussi, a University of Colorado student from Indiana, told Westword that Grass’s debut album, Dragwire, was recorded in just two days on a “beat-up” 2008 iMac, with minimal subsequent overdubs. Half of Dragwire was tracked at the band’s warehouse space next to the Bus Stop strip club in Boulder, and half at a warehouse in Denver also used by psychedelic band Tom Waits for No Man.

Dragwire, distributed by First Base Tapes via cassette and download, will have its official release this Saturday, November 5, in Boulder when Grass plays a house party featuring four other bands. Colussi says that playing relatively brief sets at house parties and warehouses with a slew of other acts on the bill is the only current option for a fledgling Boulder rock group, and he’s okay with that.

“It’s challenging, and there can be a feeling of competition, but we’ve learned to do well with them because it’s basically all we know at this point,” he says. “Short sets are just what we know how to do, so we play hard and pack up. We’re also a relatively new band, so we don’t have six albums’ worth of material to draw from.”

Read the rest of this feature at Westword.com 

COMRADES IN AXES: An Interview with Dr. Dog (Boulder Weekly 2/27/2014)

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COMRADES IN AXES
DR. DOG’S LONGEVITY OWES TO THE BOND BETWEEN BAND MEMBERS
by Adam Perry for Boulder Weekly
2/27/2014

It’s been a long ride for Dr. DogThe band got its start about 15 years ago playing parties in Philadelphia before becoming the beloved underground band that rock stars (including Jim James) longed to be in, and then a national touring phenomenon, after the Abbey Road-esque 2008 breakthrough Fate. But what’s struck me, continually, about Dr. Dog — which, at its best, brilliantly juxtaposes The Band and The Beatles with a smidgen of indie irreverence — is the clear, strong friendship that comes through, even on the biggest stages.

At Red Rocks two years ago, opening for Wilco, Dr. Dog’s co-frontmen Scott McMicken and Toby Leaman rollicked around the wide stage — with the sun setting over Denver in the background — like teenagers who’d just started a band in their garage and were getting the chance to prove themselves by smiling and hollering until their allotted time ran out.

The subject of Dr. Dog’s famous camaraderie — reminiscent of how Neil Young & Crazy Horse always seem to huddle together during performances even on the kind of giant stages that seem to separate most arena-rock acts and their comparably giant egos — came up in a recent conversation with keyboardist (and founding member) Zach Miller recently.

“I think we are all pretty laid-back people and ultimately put the band ahead of our own ambitions,” Miller replies when asked how Dr. Dog has always seemingly kept drama to a minimum and maintained an extremely high energy level in concert, whether at Red Rocks or the tiny inside stage at Santa Fe Brewing, where I saw the band in 2010.

McMicken and Leaman had been playing together since junior high before starting Dr. Dog in 1999, and that bond — enhanced by a vow to never play covers — no doubt carried over.

“It was exciting to be introduced to their world, where everyone was in a great band and really good friends together,” Miller says. “We are there to serve the band. We love the songs, and I think that comes through on stage.”

Dr. Dog’s songwriting — according to most fans — peaked on its lighthearted, lo-fi first few albums (notably Easy Beat and We All Belong, both on Park the Van) and the flawless Fate (-Anti), which saw the group’s popularity skyrocket. With all the band members singing either lead or harmonies and most songs impressively fitting together like a puzzle, those three long-plays dazzled critics and music geeks alike, whereas the three Dr. Dog albums that’ve followed are enjoyable but at times sound like caricatures of classic Dr. Dog tracks like “The Old Days.”

That can’t, however, be said for “Humble Passenger,” the extended story-song that concludes the band’s latest album, 2013’s B-Room. Somewhere between Jeffrey Lewis’ comical hipster-rock and Phish’s “Gamehendge” saga, “Humble Passenger” takes listeners through the caverns of McMicken’s subconscious, where, among other things, his seventh-grade bus turns into a whale.

The hypnotic corresponding music is about as symphonic as a tasteful rock band can get without stumbling into Yes territory, and “Humble Passenger” has even been made into a comic book that’s for sale online.

“The comic came after the song,” Miller explains. “It seemed like an obvious move after we realized what the song had become. [‘Humble Passenger’] was based on an actual dream of Scott’s, which he had turned into a basic ‘I-IV-V’ folk demo. From that, [guitarist] Frank [McElroy] did an incredible arrangement to reflect the musical journey of the lyrics. We all recorded our parts in separate sessions from a scratch take of Frank’s arrangement. I was so pleased with the way it all came together, especially for such an ambitious recording undertaken in such a disjointed way.”

With such an extensive catalog — since 2002, Dr. Dog has released seven albums and a slew of hard-to-find EPs and other rarities — it must be hard to please longtime fans who are screaming for old-school gems such as “Oh No” and “California.”

“Definitely,” Miller says. “It’s always tough to get a good mix of things in the set, but we have to skew more to the newer stuff; that’s the whole point of what we’re doing. Ideally, we try to get in something from each album … but that doesn’t always happen.”

With a headlining set at the Boulder Theater, Miller and the rest of Dr. Dog should have ample time to please even their most hardcore fans.

SHOW NOTE: Foals in Denver

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The Humbucker Proxy
Foals at the Ogden Theatre, Denver

6/4/2013

Foals brought its beyond-energetic live show to Denver on Tuesday night, and the intellectual young English indie-rock quintet – bouncing around the stage with the fervor of a hardcore punk band – reminded me of the term Anthony Keidis once used to describe the Talking Heads “big band” era: “orchestral funk.” Juxtaposing lyrics that touch on obsessive love and Huxleyan future-worlds with quick, crisp whiteboy funk that explodes intermittently, Foals’ live show impresses not just with the group’s contagious calisthenics and percussive, Graceland-on-steroids guitars. What moved me most was how singer-guitarist Yannis Philippakis and Co. – who admirably waited until the encore to play “Inhaler,” now their most recognizable tune – re-arranged fan favorites, navigated stop-on-a-dime changes ala King Crimson, and tastefully extended bridges and outros into beautiful build, release and repeat workouts that often ended with Philippakis jumping or running into the audience. At one point he even pulled an Eddie Vedder and climbed the balcony before leaping into the big Ogden crowd’s enthusiastic arms.

It was powerful, and powerfully original. Jambands like Particle have made a living for years playing shallow double-time funk for kids on ecstasy; Foals takes that dance-concentrated formula, mixes in the tiniest smidgen of Nu Metal bombast, and one-ups even the best modern jambands by slaying audience with not only the aforementioned fire-breathing orchestral funk but, get this, great songs. One after another.

DARK DARK DARK in Denver (Boulder Weekly 10/25/2012)

PROGRESS VIA ANTIQUITY
Dark Dark Dark in Denver
by Adam Perry for Boulder Weekly
10/25/2012

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During the 2011 Communikey Festival, a few hundred local hipsters packed the obscure and highly under-used Odd Fellows Hall on Pearl Street to see why Dark Dark Dark — a poignant Minneapolis-based indie-pop and chamber-folk group that plays old-world instruments — was playing an electronic music festival.

It turns out the band had been deeply involved with former bassist Todd Chandler’s incredible film Flood Tide, which found the musicians (as part of the artist Swoon’s Swimming Cities of the Serenissima project) building giant rafts out of found materials and living on them for a time as they sailed down the Hudson from Troy to Long Island City. At Odd Fellows, Dark Dark Dark played a live soundtrack to Flood Tide, which songwriter, singer and multi-instrumentalist Marshall LaCount calls “part document of Swimming Cities, part fictional narrative, with a twist of environmental activism.”

According to LaCount, “All of us were involved in the Swoon project on many levels. Different incarnations of that project and community are one of the catalysts for Nona [Invie] and I starting this band, and significantly expanded our experience, our ambitions and our community.”

Dark Dark Dark, which debuted in 2008 with The Snow Magic, has always created exceptionally cinematic music, much of which would not be out of place in Tim Burton’s movies, although thus far the band’s songs have instead surprisingly appeared in the background on Grey’s Anatomy and American Idol. Dark Dark Dark’s original Flood Tide score saw the band growing, or simply discovering, its musical capabilities.

“As far as sound,” LaCount says, “I think we did start expanding our dynamic range and some of the improvisation we were ‘allowing’ ourselves to do in [our] usual live setting, in working on the film. We did it in a very Neil Young Dead Man scoring kind of fashion, at least from our understanding [spontaneously composing music while watching a film with very little dialogue]. Noisier and more textural things carried into our songs a little more quickly from working on accompanying the film.”

Dark Dark Dark’s new album, Who Needs Who, isn’t exactly Neil Young shredding away on Old Black. But its intermittent smidgens of distorted guitar bursts are surely a departure from the deeply intimate, spooky and almost baroque sensibility of 2010’s Wild Go, which singer-pianist Invie nods to on Who Needs Who’s title track.

Invie — whose romantic relationship with LaCount ended just before Who Needs Who was recorded — is most comfortable and powerful conveying her bold poetry with just a piano and her wispy voice, or when also accompanied by slow, buoyant bass and gently brush-stroked drums. NPR correctly described her voice as “flexible, penetrating, shedding both light and shadow on the meaning of her lyrics.” And both are necessary when contemplating lines like “I have the memory of trust / I try to keep it close / I swallow it whole / from the mouth of you.”

LaCount says that he and Invie, who have been close for many years, share a musical upbringing.

“Nona and I basically learned our original instruments — acoustic banjo and accordion — reading Klezmer, wedding and traditional songs from Eastern European countries, and American folk,” LaCount says. “We’d play that stuff on the street or in loud bars. We’ve definitely spent a lot of time redefining and personalizing our sound, but people still hear these influences, for sure. There are also classical influences, punk bands, spoken word projects, really all kinds of influences happening.”

It’s almost impossible to point to another modern musical artist that Dark Dark Dark can aptly be compared to, although Joanna Newsom and others have recently also, as LaCount describes, brilliantly made “classical and world instruments fair game in indie and folk music.” He cites the soundtracks to films like Waking Life and Amelie as partial inspirations for that movement toward progression via antiquity.

LaCount, who told me he has “no idea” how his stormy relationship with Invie has informed Dark Dark Dark’s music, has said that the two made a pact at the beginning of their romance to make the music survive no matter what happened between them. Despite some fairly brutal Invie-penned lyrics on Who Needs Who that touch on the breakup and have been described by her as hurtful but honest, LaCount says the strong friendship within Dark Dark Dark is “one of the reasons we can last.”

“Sometimes we may go eight hours without talking, and then spend two hours laughing our asses off about nothing,” he says. “Somehow we generally know how to create the personal space we need when there is no space at all.”

DEERHOOF (interview/preview) Boulder Weekly 9/20/12

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CUTE MADNESS
Deerhoof Goes for Best of Both Worlds
by Adam Perry for Boulder Weekly, 9/20/12

Deerhoof concerts have always been uniquely fun, but lately more of a festive connection between band and audience has been on the quartet’s mind, according to singer/bassist Satomi Matsuzaki, who lived in her native Japan until the mid-’90s.

“For Breakup Song [Deerhoof ’s 10th album, released Sept. 4], we tried to create a feeling of party dance music,” she says. “When we played shows in the past, I noticed that sometimes our music is not easy to dance to. Then, [when] I moved to New York this year, I went to dance parties and enjoyed it very much.

Questlove [of the Roots] plays DJ every Thursday at Brooklyn Bowl. Once all the Deerhoof members went there for the after-party of the show, which we played with Questlove. We had so much fun. Questlove’s DJ style reminded me of our music. He uses short clips of popular dance hits to make audiences keep dancing and just keep going. Kind of busy and mind-bogging in a way. I got a hint from that when we made this album.”

Deerhoof formed in San Francisco in 1994 and acquired its energetic and brilliant Japanese-born frontwoman Matsuzaki in 1996. The sweetly bombastic quartet juxtaposes explosions of dark indie madness with sincere Japanese cuteness and deft musicianship.

Drummer Greg Saunier, who has struggled with Tourette syndrome, spastically throws himself at a comically small drumkit like Keith Moon channeling Gene Krupa. Guitarists John Dietrich, a founding member, and Ed Rodriguez (who joined Deerhoof in 2008), joyfully trade staccato licks not unlike Adrian Belew and Robert Fripp on the classic King Crimson tune “Neal and Jack and Me” (sans soloing). And Matsuzaki, standing at around 5 feet tall, holds it all together with a tasteful, thumping bass that appears larger than she is. She defines the band with the creative, loveable and sometimes bizarre lyrics she sings in a babyish (yet deeply beautiful) voice.

Matsuzaki has bounced around from San Francisco to Tokyo to London and New York the past few years, and the rest of the band has lived apart as well. Intra-band drama and ossification often make it difficult for any band to attain or sustain musical success, so it’s incredible that Deerhoof, which achieved some mainstream exposure in the past decade with the critically acclaimed album The Runners Four and by opening a few shows for Radiohead, has been able to continue to evolve, “working together like a family.” The band continues to play stripped-down, intense concerts while taking its studio work as “out there” as possible.

The latter means sometimes recording synth-heavy experiments that would be impossible to recreate live with just two guitars, Matsuzaki’s bass and the aforementioned comically small acoustic drum kit.

“We don’t treat live shows and albums same,” Matsuzaki explains. “We make an album as if we create a sci-fi movie. There is no technical limit, like making Transformers! It’s a fairy tale and you can make it up as far as your imagination goes, but we don’t try to recreate those sounds for shows. We are trying to rearrange all the songs from scratch. We even change the structure. The idea and bones remain.

“Why would audiences wanna listen to exact same music when they have already listened to [the recording]? That doesn’t sound fun to me. I expect thrilling liveliness and improvisations from live shows. We strip down the songs to leave spaces for us to be able to throw our current sparkle ideas on stage. Every show is different for us.”

Romantic tales like the sprightly “Flower” — with its “Let it go / leave it all behind” chorus — will surely show concertgoers at the Hi-Dive in Denver on Tuesday a different, more personal side of Deerhoof.

“Relationships matter is the simplest theme that everyone relates to,” Matsuzaki says. “I think about communication all the time. [Breakup Song] is not just about love relationships but also friendships. We all had breakups in the past and moved on. The album encourages you to move on, be happy and dance! It’s time to party. Fun!”

REVIEW: My Morning Jacket & Band of Horses (Red Rocks, 8/3/12)

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photo by Adam Perry

REVIEW: My Morning Jacket & Band of Horses
by Adam Perry
for Boulder Weekly, 8/6/2012

For a long time, My Morning Jacket was a prolific American rock band I was peripherally aware of but never checked out in earnest, although I owned and liked 2005’s Z. Then last year I found myself immersed in family life and the alcohol-fueled drama of drumming in a touring, recording rock trio when “Outta My System,” the highlight of MMJ’s 2011 albumCircuital, made its way into my consciousness and eerily gave me the feeling frontman Jim James was reading my mind. I was hooked.

So it was a joy to stand just feet from James on Friday night when MMJ brought its dark, versatile saloon-rock to the stage on a beautiful Red Rocks evening. The bearded, long-haired James was inconspicuously dressed in brown pants and a black dress shirt, but a bright blue poncho/cape nodded at the wonderful outrageousness of rock ‘n’ roll   which often vaults quirky, unattractive men with given names like James Olliges to stardom  in an age when a non-jamband without a radio hit to its name can admirably pack America’s best outdoor venue two nights in a row.

Hilariously, propped up next to James’ amplifiers was a large stuffed, poncho-wearing bear clearly meant as a tribute to James. And the bear did fairly resemble the singer-songwriter-guitarist, save for being stationary.

Starting off with a couple of rollicking tunes from its early days  I’m not yet enough of a MMJ-phile to have recognized them  the group showed that their catalog is deep enough and good enough to wait six songs into a set to play anything off its current release. That’s when “Outta My System” was unleashed, and the majority of the crowd knew every powerful word, including:

If you don’t live now you ain’t even trying

And then you on your way to a mid-life crisis

Livin’ it out, any way you feel

Like the stellar opening act Band of Horses (I sadly missed early opener Trombone Shorty), MMJ has the look of a metal band especially James and the larger, hairier drummer Patrick Hallahan  from long hair and dark clothing to James’ Flying V guitar. And the metal energy and volume are there, too. But both groups somehow pull listeners into a metal-like fever pitch (most ironically during MMJ’s Friday sing-along performance of “Holdin’ on to Black Metal,” which is Rockies OF Tyler Colvin’s walk-on song at Coors Field) while the music sits firmly in its Americana roots.

Where Band of Horses’ steadily building, crowd-pleasing set (which peaked with the powerful “Funeral”) juxtaposed a heavy dose of psychedelic indie hard-rock (“Is There a Ghost?”) with an updated form of genuine Hank Williams balladry (“No One’s Gonna Love You”), James and MMJ impressed by putting their visionary stamp on a wide-range of American music. From MMJ’s “Masters of War”-esque march of “Victory Dance” (which also recalls XTC’s “Complicated Game”) to the lovely, Woody Guthrie-influenced ballad “Wonderful (The Way I Feel)” to the band’s incredible cover of Erykah Badu’s “Tyrone,” James and Co. dazzled by remaining themselves, and very much wielding their heavyweight rock chops, while jumping all over the pop music map.

In truth, MMJ’s covers at Red Rocks on Friday night (also including Elton John, INXS and the Clash) were as apt, effective and original as any I’ve heard since, coincidentally, Cee-Loo Green’s Band of Horses cover.

Not that MMJ can do no wrong. Sure it’s nitpicking, but the awe-inspiring pace of its concerts sort of leaves inadequate room to thoroughly enjoy what one is seeing, which is possibly the great rock band of our time (not indie or alternative or psychedelic but just plain rock). Only once during the first 22 songs of the night can I remember James verbally acknowledge the crowd, and only to give a standard “How’s everyone feeling?” and comment on everything feeling right in the universe when you’re seeing a decent show at Red Rocks, which is true.

Quantity is not the correct gauge when it comes to banter, but a few more instances of breaking the fourth wall would’ve made Friday a little more enjoyable for me. Maybe I’m old now but, unless I’m seeing a Ween show, I’d rather see the setlist cut by a few songs and some quality Master of Ceremonies work added than wonder if I’ll ever catch my breath.

Not I’m complaining. In the end, what I’ll remember most from Friday is the absolutely stunning vocal prowess of both James and Band of Horses’ Ben Bridwell, a slight, young-looking frontman who is 34, the same age as James. Both men have thick, high-pitched voices that carry enough to command and hold attention at massive venues like Red Rocks, and somehow not only cut through but own the huge sound of their very loud, otherwise guitar-driven bands.

Both are men from the South who took country music and, with a little dark psychedelia and a lot of electric guitar, made it something both entirely different and entirely related.

Now to catch my breath and finally get the rest of My Morning Jacket’s albums.

Review: Wilco & Dr. Dog at Red Rocks, 6/23/12

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Review: Wilco & Dr. Dog at Red Rocks

by Adam Perry for Boulder Weekly

More than probably any other current American band, Dr. Dog knows how to remind a crowd what rock ’n’ roll is all about. Midway through the sextet’s opening set at Red Rocks Amphitheatre on Saturday night, Toby Leaman — whose onstage persona is somewhere between Rick Danko and Neal Cassady — set his bass down, stomping, clapping and howling while singing lead on “Lonesome,” from Dr. Dog’s new album, Be the Void(Anti-). The camaraderie between the Philadelphia group, notably the core members who’ve been together for a decade, was palpable as always. And the raucous, Band-style old-timey rock flowed like Milwaukee’s Best at a kegger.

Dr. Dog’s last two albums, Shame, Shame and Be the Void, have been a little disappointing in comparison with earlier underground classics like Easy Beat and We All Belong, and especially Fate, the band’s 2008Abbey Road-esque breakout. On the new stuff, more advanced recording techniques and rehashed ideas have come together to sometimes cloud the charming, irreverent old-school vibe that, along with touring like hell, put Dr. Dog on the map. But its invigorating live shows still reveal the talented group as relentless barnstormers capable of stealing the show from the biggest headliners around and making even a mega-venue like Red Rocks happily feel like a sweaty basement party.

Singer/guitarist Scott McMicken, whose high, quirky voice (reminiscent of the Dead Milkmen’s Joe Genaro) and deft guitar playing never seem to stop improving as Dr. Dog rolls along, brought a roar from the capacity Red Rocks crowd with the first lines of “From” (“Oh my love / don’t you leave me / ’cause I don’t wanna learn how to die”). McMicken soon jumped around Talking Heads-style while he and fellow guitarist Frank McElroy played harmony solos a la the Allman Brothers. As usual, the sense that Dr. Dog’s authenticity comes not just from a shared love of music but unconditional friendship was ever-present.

As My Morning Jacket’s Jim James, who took Dr. Dog out on a few tours years ago after hearing a demo tape, has said, as a musician it’s nearly impossible to witness the unbridled fun of a Dr. Dog concert and not wish you were in the band. That intoxicating energy was most apparent Saturday night during the set closer, “The Rabbit, the Bat and the Reindeer,” a fast-paced sing-along with no chorus, just gem after gem of simple urban Pennsylvania poetry. After the song, which became a stretched-out guitar-rocker with Leaman, McMicken and McElroy getting aerobic workouts until the dramatic near-“Free Bird” ending, the sun set and Red Rocks awaited Wilco.

Now called “an American institution” by many journalists and fans, Wilco has been around nearly 20 years and traversed the musical worlds of Alternative country, Americana/folk, bar-room rock, and a sort of electronic rock that blends navel-gazing indie pretense with mid-tempo, myopic alt-rock. Beginning their second straight night at Red Rocks with “Misunderstood,” a smoky classic from the 1996 double album Being There, it was good to see that singer/guitarist Jeff Tweedy & Co. are still capable of keeping it simple and showing an audience Wilco is worthy of playing a marquee American venue like Red Rocks.

That “keeping it simple” part didn’t last long. The 2004 addition of avant-garde electric guitarist Nels Cline, now 56 years old, has been a boon when he teams up with Tweedy to wildly (but not extensively) jam out Crazy Horse-style, as Wilco did Saturday night on the A Ghost is Born gem “At Least That’s What She Said.” But as the night went on it became clear that every other song was going to turn into a dark, spacey, almost Phish-esque platform for Cline to noodle. Unlike the sincere, rootsy Dr. Dog set just beforehand, Cline’s noodling was in fact not what rock ’n’ roll is all about.

Still, “Impossible Germany,” “You Are My Face” and a few other tunes showcased Wilco’s ability — when not stretching out too far into the Cline-led fusion freakouts — to blend tasteful Allman Brothers guitars with brilliant, sharp changes that show how Miles Davis’ ‘60s bands powerfully influenced rock.

And Glenn Kotche is a truly special drummer. Trained in jazz but possessing the enthusiasm and bombast of Keith Moon (whose drum kit was similarly huge), there’s really no one like him in rock today. Whether you need a gentle genius on lyric-heavy light-rock like “Jesus, Etc.,” the sort of big-band histrionics of Sky Blue Sky, or the all-out assault of Wilco’s new foray into noodling, Kotche can do it all.

In the end, though, it’s hard to escape the knowledge that at the center of Wilco is Tweedy, a guy who can wow a crowd of thousands with just an acoustic guitar, a microphone and a couple dozen of his best songs. Others may disagree, but when I head to a Wilco show it’s to see Tweedy excel at performing his now-classic compositions — and to witness at least a little of Wilco’s “what rock ’n’ roll is all about” youth flowering again after all these years.

I don’t head to a Wilco show to see Nels Cline move his fingers frantically up and down a fretboard minute after minute while the rest of the band vamps.

So it was a breath of fresh air, and a little bit of a selfish bummer in hindsight, to leave the show early on Saturday and then see that Wilco’s encore — incredibly, songs 23 through 28 — was a romp through the bar-room rock (“Casino Queen,” “Kingpin,” etc.) that won the band a loyal fanbase before Yankee Hotel Foxtrot made them Red Rocks-size stars. So take this as a lesson: Unless you and your date have a babysitter waiting at home, as we did, never leave a Wilco show early.