LSD, Wilco, and the Monte V: A Cautionary Tale

Tony Ballz

“I used to do drugs. I still do, but I used to, too.”

 —Mitch Hedberg

We couldn’t believe our luck. It was as if the heavens opened and the gods of good music rained down upon us their gifts and favors. My little vacation looked like this: on Wednesday, Jayme & Pete were coming down from the Canyon to Flag, where we were going to see Wilco at the Orpheum. On Thursday, we were driving down to Tucson to see Wilco AGAIN at the Rialto. And on Friday, I was trekking way the hell into the godforsaken California desert for the two-day Coachella Music and Arts Festival, where I was to see Wilco AAGGAAIINN on Saturday.

Fuck. The two AZ shows in two days was filling enough, but three felt gluttonous. By the end of their Saturday set, I’d be waddling full-bellied around that big manicured polo field, burping aloud with a toothpick hanging from my greasy lips:

“More Wilco?”

“No thanks (earrrp), believe I’ve had enough. Alka-Seltzer, please.”

We had tickets bought and everything. Goddamned if I wasn’t going to pull THIS one off, hell yeah. This was some heavy shit, some major music nerdity. Not as much as Blaine cashing in all his frequent-flyer miles and half his vacation time in order to see Tool in San Diego, Tucson, Las Vegas, San Francisco, and TWICE in L.A. within an 8-day span (he didn’t have a girlfriend at the time), but not too shabby. And Blaine tends to raise the bar pretty high, so to speak.

It felt too good to be true, and it was. Less than a week before the festivities were to begin, I happened to be cruising by wilcoworld.net and the whole damn thing came crashing down with the news that singer Jeff Tweedy had checked himself into rehab and the first leg of their tour was cancelled.

It was a bummer of epic proportions. Jayme and Pete were so depressed they didn’t leave their house for days. I moped out to Coachella, hungry for Wilco, and had to settle for consuming lots of acid with Blaine and seeing Radiohead, The Pixies, Kraftwerk, Broken Social Scene, Flaming Lips, Beck, The Evens, Basement Jaxx, Atmosphere, Perry Farrell DJing, Belle and Sebastian, Erase Errata, and The Cure in one weekend. What a drag.

Flash forward 12 months. Wilco has FINALLY rescheduled Flagstaff, and we’re traipsing down Aspen Avenue on cloud nine, lalala, oh not much, just WALKING SIX BLOCKS FROM MY HOUSE TO SEE WILCO, nothing special.

The cast of characters for our little drama is: the band, myself, Jayme & Pete, my Flag friend Jessica, and four hits of righteous liquid LSD, which we have just partaken of prior to the show. Mmmmm. We’ve already caught the band in Phoenix to whet the appetite, but we can just feel tonight is going to be special (little did we know …).

The Orpheum staff gape at our year-old tickets, wrinkled but still intact. They call over other employees to see. Yeah, that’s right bitches, we take this shit SERIOUSLY. Step aside.

The acid kicks in right as opening band Calexico, just for the record nerds and dopers in the house, kicks into “Alone Again Or”, song #1 off Love’s Forever Changes LP from 1967, reportedly a great year for music and drugs. Perfect.

During Wilco’s set, I stand in front of lead guitarist Nels Cline and watch his right hand become some sort of high-speed power tool, hacking and gouging huge chunks of wood and metal out from the body of his Fender Jazzmaster, while each finger of his left hand is representing a different color of the rainbow shooting out like a laser across the packed house. Sweet.

My most vivid non-hallucination of the evening is glancing randomly through the crowd and spying Jayme repeatedly making a junkie-stabbing-in-the-needle motion during “A Shot In The Arm”. Classy.

After the show, we regroup outside and decide to get refreshments up the street at the Monte V, a local hole

However, Jayme spies the band’s big shiny tour vehicle and her eyes light up.

“Let’s get Wilco to have a drink with us!”

“Uhh … what?”

“Sure, why not? Tweedy probably won’t come, but I bet some of the other guys will!”

We looked at the quietly imposing black bus.

“You mean, you’re just going to waltz in there and say: ‘Yo Wilco, c’mon down to the V and have some PBR with the natives?'”

“What the hell, it’s worth a try. And I’d definitely buy them something better than that swill. Come on, what do we have to lose?”

I felt the acid still dancing in my system. I glanced at the bus again and was pretty sure it was shooting out rainbows this time. I looked at our dates, then at Pete’s dopey perma-grin. I felt my jaw aching and knew he and I were in the same place. Just waiting for the aliens to land. I pictured Pete and myself aboard the bus:

“Huhhuhhuh … hey Wilco, that wuz cool. You guys rock.”

“Yeah! Yeah! Rock! Rock! Heeheeheeheehee!”

I assessed our situation.

“How ’bout you gals talk to the band while me and Beavis here go on ahead to the bar?”

“You sure?”

“Yeah, I bet two pretty unaccompanied ladies can get on board easier than all four of us.”

They couldn’t argue with that logic.

“Just don’t leave town with them.”

We split up. Pete and I strolled toward the bar.

“Do you think it’ll work?”

“Don’t know, but if anyone can pull this off, Jayme can.”

“Man, that’s one intense chick. Sure hate to be married to her!”

“You are married to her, Pete.”

“Shit.”

“I’m feelin’ your pain, bro.”

“Have the aliens landed yet?”

“Soon, Pete. Soon.”

The V was busy. We made our way upstairs and got drinks. Less than ten minutes later Jayme approaches, wearing what can only be described as a shit-eating grin.

“We got two of ’em.”

 “Two of what?”

 “Wilco. They’re over by the door.”

We looked across the bar and there was John Stirratt and Pat Sansone of the rock band Wilco sitting at a table in the freakin’ Monte V jabbering with Jessica. Pete went slack-jawed. My mind short-circuited.

“Yeah, c’mon down. Maybe if you guys are real nice to me I’ll introduce ya.”

Jayme led us to their table like the High-Priestess-and-Gatekeeper-of-Everything-Hip-and-Groovy-on-this-Planet that she was. We sat down. Jessica skipped off to the ladies’ room and Jayme went to get drinks for the boys. The four of us looked at each other. We made our introductions.

“John.”

“Pat.”

“Pete.”

“Mmungrff.”

We stared at them, and they at us. I opened my mouth, but nothing came out. I took a sip of my drink. I glanced at Pete. He looked like a deer in the headlights and was engrossed in gulping down his beer. I turned my gaze back at two of the men we had just seen onstage less than an hour before. I kicked my LSD-soaked brain in the ass. SAY SOMETHING, IDIOT!

“You guys rock.”

“Thanks.”

Silence….

“Yeah, good show.”

“Hey, thanks.”

 LONG silence…

 “So … Flagstaff. What’s it like living here?”

  “It’s OK, the weather’s nice … not a lot to do …”

  More silence…

“Beavis, I mean Pete here works up at the Grand Canyon.”

 “Oh yeah? What’s that like?”

“Oh yeah? What’s that like?”

“It’s OK, not a lot to do … the weather’s nice …”

It got no better. The ladies managed to jump-start the conversation upon their return, but Pete and I sat there like two goobers through the whole thing. Every time one of the girls tried to hand the ball to one of us, we’d just go “uh-huh” and grin like monkeys.

John and Pat were friendly, but they had to go after another round, being hard-working professional musicians and all. As we said goodbye and watched them leave, I grew tired of kicking my brain’s ass and thought: I should have a list ready for situations like this. I mean, hell, I was close to being obsessed with this band. I probably knew more about their discography than THEY did! And I’ve been playing guitar and buying records most of my life! Rumor has it I’ve got a pretty good sense of humor too! I can converse like a motherfucker! Especially on LSD! As soon as they walked out that door, dozens of conversation starters ran through my head:

“Yeah, this is the Monte V. What a shithole, huh? Supposed to be haunted, though …”

“Cool keyboard setup, Pat. Is that one thing a Mini-Moog?”

“How’s the Autumn Defense going? Are you going to make another album?”

“John, you’re from New Orleans; ever see Huey Smith play? Or Professor Longhair? Guess what? WE’RE TRIPPING RIGHT NOW!”

“Did you guys put that long noise track on the new record just to piss people off?”

“Saw Nels Cline play right here with Mike Watt a couple years ago. Slipped Watt a joint before the show, heh heh. Touched the econo-van for good luck, too …”

“OK, which side ya on, Bushmill’s or Jameson’s?”

“I was living in Lincoln Park when Lounge Ax opened. Saw a bunch of shows there. I sorta knew Jeff’s wife Susan before they were married, don’t suppose she’ll remember me …”

“Wow, Neu! sure is bitchin’, aren’t they? Ever heard Amon Duul? Or Faust?”

“Jim O’Rourke was in a few of my music classes at DePaul. Nice guy. I still have a cassette of his old band The Elvis Messiahs …”

“How does Nels do that thing with the rainbow lasers shooting from his fingers? That was cool.”

“I’m in a band too, maybe we can open for Wilco sometime, hahaha! Seriously, here’s a demo …”

“Watch out behind you there, fellas; I think the aliens just walked in.”

“Any plans to collect Wilco’s B-sides? There’s this one song called Student Loan Stereo …”

“Did I mention we were tripping? Hell yeah, it’s good. Want some?”

“Tell us about the time Warren Zevon was a total dick to you guys.”

Etc. Etc. Et-fucking-cetera.

I still can’t believe we sat in the V for an hour with two members of Wilco, yet not one person recognized them, despite the fact that most of the patrons were probably at the show. We were right by the door too. Of course, no one WE knew came in, either:

“Hey, you guys … oh not much, just HANGIN’ WITH WILCO, nothing special …”

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