Wilco & Okkervil River @ Greek Theatre, Berkeley, 6.27.09

Every city has its venues that for better or worse are prompt when it comes to set times. The Greek Theatre in Berkeley is one of those. Show time on my ticket stub read 730pm. Given my interest in the opener, Okkervil River, I arrived at the gates around 720pm. As I made my way to the side stage, Okkervil were a few seconds into their first song. I checked my watch: 727pm. That is not prompt, it's bs. Maybe the venue thinks no one's there to see the opener, but I was.

As I turned the corner into the beautiful Greek Theatre, nearly all seats were already spoken for. I drifted around the lawn and eventually found some friends about midway between the stage and the back of the venue. Perfect. Okkervil's set was quick but solid. The crowd seemed fairly ambivalent, which is somewhat surprising given the similarities between the bands.

And then came Wilco. The arguments from Wilco purists down to the recent converts is often about as tiresome as it gets. Yes, they've changed. Yes, they've had a lot of lineup changes. But there's little sensible argument against their output from 1994 to date. They have released seven records, nine if you count the Mermaid collaborations, and they have yet to release anything even close to a clunker. I can count on but one hand or maybe no hands, acts that can claim that consistency. They are arguably the best band since R.E.M., and have outdone their mentor on the longevity note. R.E.M. were great for ten years. When they turned the corner to crap in 1994, Wilco grabbed the proverbial torch.

I have now seen Wilco about 40 times. Maybe 35. Maybe 50. I have never once been disappointed. I've actually never left without feeling an almost all-encompassing feeling of euphoria. They are the one band that can take all the pains, doubts and nerves of a day and give you two-plus hours of freedom.

Last night was no exception. This lineup, now together for five years or so, is about as tight as Wilco's ever been. "A Shot in the Arm," the third song on the set list, brought on a fairly explosive response from the crowd, and a look around the audience revealed singalongs, bear hugs and a general sense of communal appreciation. Many of Wilco's weaker songs on record, turn into their strongest songs live. "At Least That's What She Said" and "You Never Know" are joyous live, while staples such as "I Am Trying To Break Your Heart" and "Impossible Germany" prove that a band consisting of mostly 40-somethings can deliver rock n' roll with an urgency and potency just as they did back in the mid-90s.

As the moon hovered over the theatre, fans were treated to the back catalog gems "Box Full of Letters" and "Misunderstood," two songs that quickly brought back thoughts of Jay Bennett. As much as I love the latest lineup, and as much as they pulled these songs off, these songs just aren't the same without Bennett's dreads flying on the former and his quirky keyboard fills on the latter.

After the show, I learned that the Greek holds about 8000, which was shocking given how intimate this show felt. Maybe it was the crowd, which over time, has become about as diverse a crowd as you'll see at a live show. There are the lifers (me), the hipsters, the families, damn, even some deadheads. But it's about as respectful and appreciative an audience as you'll see, and much of that has to do with the consistent and moving goods delivered by Tweedy and company.

Music for the iPhone

I wasn't even going to add music to my iPhone. I mean, I already have my 16gb Nano and 60gb Classic (which I found after more than two months on the lam) and one of the two is always on me. But c'mon, who am I kidding. Instead of going with my top played tracks in my iTunes library (did that for the Nano), I have opted to pick one entire album from my top 50 listened-to artists on last.fm. As far as which album to select, I went with the least obvious. Or most obvious.

Bruce Springsteen - Darkness on the Edge of Town
Wilco - A Ghost is Born
Josh Ritter - Golden Age of Radio
Bob Dylan - The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan
Bonnie "Prince" Billy - Beware
Josh Rouse - The Smooth Sounds of Josh Rouse
Richard Buckner - Richard Buckner
Okkervil River - The Stage Names
Neil Young - Comes a Time
M. Ward - Duet for Guitars #2
Nick Drake - Five Leaves Left
Damien Jurado - Ghost of David
Eels - Daisies of the Galaxy
Tim Easton - Porcupine
Centro-matic - Love You Just the Same
Uncle Tupelo - No Depression
Joe Henry - Kindness of the World
Elliott Smith - XO
Spoon - Girls Can Tell
Son Volt - Wide Swing Tremolo
The Gourds - Dems Good Beeble
Beck - Odelay
Matthew Ryan - Matthew Ryan vs. The Silver State
Townes Van Zandt - Townes Van Zandt
The National - Alligator
Aimee Mann - The Forgotten Arm
The Jayhawks - Hollywood Town Hall
Pavement - Wowee Zowee
Yo La Tengo - I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One
Old 97's - Too Far To Care
Brakes - Give Blood
Sam Cooke - Portrait of a Legend 1951-1964
The Kinks - Arthur: Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire
Richmond Fontaine - Miles From
R.E.M. - Murmur
The Beatles - The White Album
Pernice Brothers - Overcome By Happiness
The Rolling Stones - Let It Bleed
Iron & Wine - The Creek Drank the Cradle
Jeff Tweedy - I did not add anything as he doesn't have a solo release, and I certainly wasn't adding one of those House Parties where the entire grating audience sings along to every damn word
Arcade Fire - Funeral
Steve Earle - I Feel Alright
Nathan Moore - Sad Songs Make Me Happy
Johnny Cash - American Recordings
Golden Smog - Down By the Old Mainstream
Slobberbone - Everything You Thought Was Right Was Wrong Today
Neko Case - Furnace Room Lullaby
Kenny Roby - Rather Not Know
The Wrens - The Meadowlands
Mark Olson - The Salvation Blues

Bill Maher on Dems/Repubs

I find Bill Maher maddening nowadays, but his closing segment on Friday was pretty much what I've been thinking for the past few weeks. Feel free to skip the first 2 mins.

Townes Van Zandt "I'll Be Here in the Morning" (Video)


I'd like to lean into the wind, tell myself I'm free



"I Wish I Was Your Mother" (Picture)


How I forgot to include this tune in my Top 50 Tunes Ever compilation is unforgiveable. I saw Ian Hunter and Alejandro Escovedo duet on this at SXSW '05 and recall having, ya know, one of those moments. The above pic was taken at that exact moment.

Here's Mott's version, as well as Alejandro's take:

Vinyl Day at Home


Eels : Hombre Lobo
Rolling Stones : Let It Bleed
Wilco : Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
Bruce Springsteen : The River

...and on through the night....

Rhett Miller "Rhett Miller"

This is sounding like a pleasant little surprise. His work outside of the 97's has been pretty erratic. 2002's The Instigator is fantastic and holds up incredibly well over time. It may be one of the best pure pop records of the decade. 2006's The Believer is really terrible. And now comes his self-titled release, which landed in people's iTunes libraries on Tuesday. Only 1.5 listens in, this sounds much closer to 2002 than 2006. Rhett's at his best when he doesn't push too hard, and Rhett Miller sounds pretty subdued.

Wilco @ Toad's Place, New Haven, CT 9.16.00 (Download / Photo)


I guess this show is widely considered one of the best Bennett-era shows, which obviously means: One of the best Wilco shows. I actually took the above picture from the audience that night. I do recall it being one hell of a show.

Setlist follows, download at the bottom:

Wilco @ Toad's Place, New Haven, CT
September 16, 2000

Airline to Heaven
Feed of Man
Christ for President
Remember the Mountain Bed
California Stars
Hesitating Beauty
Secret of the Sea
Red-Eyed and Blue
Someone Else's Song
How To Fight Loneliness
Hotel Arizona
I'm Always In Love
She's a Jar
A Shot in the Arm
I'm the Man Who Loves You
Forget the Flowers
New Madrid
Passenger Side
Casino Queen
Hoodoo Voodoo
Outta Mind (Outta Site)

Wilco - Toad's Place

7 Worlds Collide (Video)

Below is one in a five part series. Nice interviews w Johnny Marr, Jeff Tweedy in OP shorts, some Finns and members of Radiohead.

Pernice / Ashmont Update

Joyce's updates are so classic that they need to be shared with a larger audience (i.e./e.g., the 4-7 people that read my blog).

June 8, 2009

My dearest friend:

Have you forgotten us? We’ve not forgotten you. Forget that last post. All lies. Here’s the real story, warts, lowered expectations and all.


Joe’s book, It Feels So Good When I Stop will be released by Riverhead (an honest-to-God publisher) on August 6. It is very good, despite the unfair characterization of my people, and despite the fact that pretty much every other word is a curse. In fact, you should note that the book is not appropriate for children, people over 65 or Joe’s sister Judy. It should not be given as a bar or bat mitzvah or confirmation gift (unless you’re being confirmed by the United States Senate as opposed to the parish priest), or left under anyone’s pillow as if it’s from the Easter bunny. I’m not kidding about this. It is FILTHY, and obviously comes from the mind of a disturbed person.*

You can now pre-order this book, if you desire, by using these links on the web page below.


You can also pre-order not using these links, but if you use the links, we get a few pennies per sale, and we promise to spend them wisely, perhaps, at Joe’s request, renting a Crown Vic* for the tour I’ll tell you about later in this novella. We will NOT be selling the book via mail order. Do you seriously expect me to carry hundreds of hardcover books to the post office to mail them to you? I love you even more than I love my facebook friends,* but seriously. We will be selling them on tour though, because then Jose has to carry them.


On August 4, Ashmont Records (formerly Ashmont Records and Tapes) will be releasing a CD called It Feels So Good When I Stop (Novel Soundtrack) which contains songs, recorded by Joe, Bob Pernice, Peyton Pinkerton and Mike Belitsky, that are mentioned in the book. This is the track listing, but not necessarily the sequence.

1. Soul and Fire (Sebadoh)

2. Chevy Van (Sammy Johns)

3. Tell Me When It’s Over (The Dream Syndicate)

4. I’m Your Puppet (James and Bobby Purify)

5. Found a Little Baby (Plush)

6. Hello It’s Me (Todd Rundgren)

7. That’s How I Got to Memphis (Tom T. Hall)

8. I Go to Pieces (Del Shannon)

9. Chim Chim Cheree (Bill Walsh, Richard Sherman, Irwin Kostal)

10. Black Smoke (No Pope) (The Young Accuser)

You might already know this, as I was tweeting the tracks before I lost interest. But no one except for “social media entrepreneurs” and “2.0 marketers,” one impatient Pernice Brothers fan and one girl who shows up everywhere I say I’m going, seem to be following me over there. But if you’re not on twitter, I do recommend it, because it’s really very interesting to know what other people are having for lunch.*


Anyway, and here’s where this gets a bit complicated. The Young Accuser is doing a Sub Pop single. In Joe’s book, the narrator, who is not Joe, is in a band called The Young Accuser for a short time. After the fictional narrator leaves this fictional band, they fictionally record a fictional song called “Black Smoke (No Pope)” and send it to the non-fictional Sub Pop. This is a non-fiction version of that fictional single. Of interest may be the fact that a cover of an even earlier fictional “Black Smoke (No Pope)” was recorded by the non-fictional Joe Pernice and appears on the non-fictional companion CD referenced above (see track listing).

Of course, this isn’t really the confusing part. You’re undoubtedly confused about us working with Sub Pop. I’m sure you’ve heard that back in the 20th century, before you were born, Joe had a multi-dollar deal with Sub Pop Records, and I was an employee there. In fact, I clawed my way all the way up to the position of VP of A & Argument, and signed about a dozen bands now remembered by about a dozen people, mostly from the Maritime Provinces (bands and people). One of those bands, from the Maritime province of Massachusetts, was of course the Scud Mountain Boys. This is where our crazy roller-coaster of a business affair began. We let you all believe, because it made for a juicy story and because we’ll do ANYTHING to sell a record, that our relationship with Sub Pop was one of those classic big-bad-corporate-label vs. scrappy-underdog-artist and long-suffering manager they-done-us-wrong things. We let you believe it – nay, we perpetuated it – because we know how you like to support the “indie” artists. The truth* is that we felt that Sub Pop wasn’t big enough for US, so at our request, they graciously SOLD Joe’s and my contract to a 20-year-old venture capitalist (remember them?) who has since lost all of his money and is now backpacking around the world, holding poetry slams in third world countries. NOW we’re indie. So please support us. But don’t hate the music business. It only did our bidding.


As for this tour, please don’t hate me. Hate geography, time, financial concerns, etc., but not me. Actually, I don’t care if you hate me. But the tour will visit only 11 cities in North America, and we are announcing just four actual dates today. I know that many of you will be unhappy about this, and you can unsubscribe if you want to, but I hope you won’t because I would miss you.* (Note my spam filter is set to automatically delete any email that contains the words “I can’t believe you won’t play (any city other than the 11). You suck.”)* If you’re going to email me something to that effect, avoid those specific words.

Rather than do a reading-only tour for the book and a music-only tour for the album, Joe decided to mash the two together, and combine reading sections of the book with performing songs from the book/album. He will perform solo. He will sign books. Tickets for the four shows listed go on sale Friday, June 12, except the Iota, which apparently doesn’t do advance tickets.

August 5, Brattle Theatre, Cambridge, MA (2 shows)

Tickets: www.WorldMusic.org

August 7, Bowery Ballroom, New York, NY

Tickets: www.boweryballroom.com

August 8, Tin Angel, Philadelphia, PA

Tickets: www.comcasttix.com

August 9, Iota, Arlington, VA

This show contains adult material and is not suitable for children, no matter how mature you may think they are. As stated earlier, it is also not suitable for people over 65, or for Joe’s sister Judy. Opening the east coast shows will be The Walsh Brothers, a Boston-bred, Los Angeles-based comedy duo. Here is where, according to them, I am supposed to write a bunch of stuff that a lady would never write about gentlemen. Joe says, “I’m not too worried about offending the easily offended. I figure the Walsh Brothers will clear them out LONG before I hit the stage.”

In the coming weeks, we will also announce shows in Toronto, Chicago, Minneapolis, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco and Los Angeles. And that is going to be it for now.

MURPHY BED (or whatever it ends up being called)

When he last wrote, Joe told you that his next album, Murphy Bed would also come out this year. Big fat lie. Or overreach. Either way, it will be 2010. All I can tell you is that Joe, James Walbourne, Ric Menck and Bob Pernice have been working on this one since around the time that the second consecutive Massachusetts Speaker of the House was indicted. But between Joe’s schedule as a hot new Americanadian author, James’s schedule as a hot young Pretender, Bob’s schedule as a corporate scientist, Menck’s schedule as Menck and my schedule as an impediment, it’s been slow going.

As has this missive. And with that I leave you

Your faithful servant, and her faithful servant

Joyce, and Charlie Ashmont

Ashmont Records

Dorchester, MA

*not actually the truth


Is a goner. Just a simple oversight or is this a sign that The Drams are finished?

2009 : Year of the Letdown?


I really thought this year was prime for a repeat of say 1998 or so. In other words, many fantastic releases. I guess the roster of artists was there, but thus far, the goods haven't been delivered.

The Tim Easton record is not very good.
Oldham's latest is a bit above mediocre.
The Earle tribute to Townes is kinda eh.
The Springsteen record blows.
The Son Volt record, though nice at first, had zero staying power.
Although I'm still absorbing, the Wilco record's a bit of a disappointment.
I listened to the M. Ward record about five times before putting it next to McGuinn's Back From Rio.
Didn't Gary Louris and Mark Olson make a record? Clearly that one didn't resonate.
I tried to like the Grizzly Bear and Animal Collection, but they're collectively snooze city.

I mean, at least Whitney Houston's got a new one on the way Sept 1.

We're still a few weeks away from the All-Star Break, but since so many records suck, I'm gonna go ahead and post my mid-year top ten right here:

1 Chip Robinson : Mylow
2 Neko Case : Middle Cyclone
3 Wilco : Wilco (the Album)
4 Eels : Hombre Lobo
5 Brakes : Touchdown
6 The Gourds : Haymaker!
7 Justin Townes Earle : Midnight at the Movies

...all I got....

Centro-matic's Will Johnson on Jay Bennett

Jay, Edward, Paul, Scott and I all got together for our first rehearsal in Jay’s Arlington Heights basement on Sunday, June 23, 2002. Some of us were just meeting for the first time, and others of us had long running friendships. The syrupy Chicago summer afternoons had well arrived, and we only had a couple of days to get ready for the first trek in support of “The Palace at 4am”. The room was a sweatbox, a mesmirizing musical laboratory of guitars, keyboards, amplifiers and curiosities. Tools, master tapes, coffee cans full of god knows what. In all, I quickly found we were surrounded by artifacts of constant pursuit, souvenirs and useful belongings from Jay’s long running and undamageable relationship with music. Felt like I could have hidden away in there behind, between, inside of something, and it might’ve been hours before anyone found me. The musician/fan factor split me down the middle viciously. It felt sensible and familiar, but in some ways I was just flat out geeked, suppressing the holy-shit! levels once every couple hours. I was playing drums with a musician that I’d respected from afar, that had played in bands I’d loved, and now was making his own unbelievably good creative path with his best friend. I championed Jay and Edward’s energy out of the gates, revelling in the momentum. Scott and I were right off the plane, worn and temperamental from the crowded meat grinders of D/FW and O’Hare, but, safe to say, honored to be thrown feet first into the experience. We were suddenly at camp. We rehearsed up more than a record’s worth of material over two and a half short days, and for two midsummer weeks afterward toured happily until our faces hurt from the laughter, the learning and newfound friendships. We were comfortable and confident in one another, and we played really, really long shows right out of the gates. Risks were taken, and we spent a good bit of time right on the fenceline that separated pulling it all off and total musical collapse. Some songs were played for the first time right there onstage, which became more often the rule rather than the exception. Sometimes we fell, and sometimes we held to our brief, sweaty and slightly smelly tradition of Shirtless Loadout. It wasn’t perfect, but it was damn sure spirited and inspired. I was where I wanted to be, doing exactly what I wanted to do with the people I wanted to do it with.

There were three frenzied, but all-too-short tours with Jay and Edward over those next four months. The extended stories from those tours will have to find their own space and conduit for some other time. What we quickly found out was that it was always moving forward with Jay, with a tireless energy so often mixed with little sleep, but always, always with love. It didn’t matter if it was music or mathematics or a riddle or a lengthy van ride analysis of a complex joke. There were moments when the music, and even the type of friendship we shared felt chaotic, like it might transform or inexplicably fade, but it never did. The phone calls and encouraging voicemails rolled on afterward. The cdr’s exchanged and detailed song notes all continued over time, all with the undertone of hopefully playing, recording together again one day. It always felt as if the bridge had seen no water pass. To say it was like a rollercoaster is too easy. Thinking back, it was more like a musical tightwire act from which we were all somehow safe from falling. As we all got to know each other over the course of those tours, I quickly found comfort in the fact that once you were a friend with Jay, you were always a friend. I saw it happen with total strangers. Often. There was a consistent glow of beauty and melody in everything I saw him take on, and more than that, an undying foundation of caring and love for those around him. In the end, there was always time for others. And there was always a kind word. And more times than not, a bear hug to follow.

Rest your heavy head, friend. We will miss your voice, your friendship, and your music. We will miss your big, big heart.

Love you.
-will johnson

You Know That Terrible Song From That Terrible Movie "Once"

I'm embarrassed to admit this, but they ripped off Ritter:

Baby Thats Not All - Josh Ritter

Dean & Britta Cover "Random Rules"

I had no idea. It's no secret that the Silver Jews' "Random Rules" is one of my favorite songs ever recorded. When I recently compiled my Top 50 Songs for a few friends, "Random Rules" was one of the first tunes that I dropped into the folder.

"In 1984, I was hospitalized for approaching perfection...."

Ten Books


Black Postcards by Dean Wareham, Memoir, 2008 : 7.4

Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison, Fiction, 1992 : 9.2

Eels "Prizefighter" (Video)