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by Luke Winn
What kind of an impression did the NU crowd make on Wilco's non-NU die-hards at May 2's A&O Ball? Well, posters on ViaChicago.org - a popular online message board for Wilco's dedicated followers - gave a unanimously negative review of student behavior at the Riviera.
Here's a sampling of their comments:
A guest wrote:
"Wilco was great. I had never seen [guitarist/vocalist] Jeff [Tweedy] tear it up like that on lead. My only complaint of the show was the crowd. No one was into it.
I felt bad for Wilco. They were trying to get the crowd going but no one was getting into it.
I never realized how much a crowd can effect [sic] a show."
A user named "Kaibab" posted this, entitled "NW Waste":
"When I heard that they were doing the Riv[iera] show for NW students, I thought that sounded pretty lame....... I used to live in Chicago and the NW crowd .....mmmmm, yeah..well whatever."
"The crowd had to be both the nicest and lamest I've ever seen. I say nice because they didn't boo Elliot Smith's horrendous set.
I think the crowd was too busy socializing to care. There was so much talking going on throughout both sets. It was definitely a college social event which is kind of sad."
But wait a second, this was supposed to be an NU-only event, paid for from NU entertainment coffers. So how did all these Wilco snobs manage to get inside in the first place?
As it turns out, A&O promoters quietly allowed entry to any and all comers on the day of the show in order to balance out lackluster on-campus ticket sales. The change in policy relieved the older Wilco crowd, who, it seems, would have otherwise resorted to sneaking in as philosophy TA look-a-likes.
A&O received extensive praise from the Wilco die-hards for letting down their guard, but those compliments should really be redirected to the thousands of apathetic students who put A&O in a bind by choosing not to attend. Perhaps Wilco was perceived as a shoddy consolation prize after the cancellation of a Snoop Doggy Dog campus show in early April?
If one can push the crowd controversy and the post-Snoop angst aside, however, Wilco's performance was not only stunning, it was enough of a success to take the heat off of A&O for the time being. The Daily, for what it's worth, praised Wilco's set. Glorious Noise, a Chicago-based music Web site, posted positive comments, although its writers seem to already worship the band. And I thoroughly enjoyed it, too well, at least the few songs I managed to hear while I wasn't talking, or on a cell phone, or fetching a beer
Wilco reportedly was paid $45,000, while half-comatose co-headliner Elliott Smith received $40,000 from A&O for what was undoubtedly one of the worst performances ever by a musician. Or any performing act, for that matter. Imagine a circus tightrope walker not really wanting to walk the rope, then feebly crawling out, falling off, and then just writhing in the big net, whining. This was like that, except not nearly so funny.
Smith struggled through his set, aborting more than half of the songs and attributing his poor showing to the fact that he slept on one of his hands during the plane ride to Chicago. The Daily's article courteously described Smith's performance as a "nightmare" and a "flop," while Jake Brown, a contributor to Glorious Noise, said what a lot of us had been thinking:
"I love Elliott Smith, but man, he was a mess last night opening up for Wilco at an unannounced show in Chicago. It was really sad.
If someone taped this, it's going to be one of those monumentally tragic recordings that show a great artist totally bottoming out.
I seriously hope he's okay and that he gets his shit together. But it would not surprise me at all if Elliott Smith ends up dead within a year."
Luke Winn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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