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LIVE REPORT: Gary Wilson
Dustin Krcatovich , July 7th, 2015 16:05

Dustin Krcatovich recounts a decade of pursuing the experimental musician's live performances

Gary Wilson's inscrutable stew of cocktail fusion, electronic/musique concrète freakery, itchy new wave songcraft, and bipolar stalker overtones may not be the most broadly palatable concoction, but it's paid to have fans in high places. How else would one account for a nerdy 60-something oddball, who counts John Cage and Fabian as his biggest musical influences, showing up in front of The Roots on The Tonight Show, wrapping himself in duct tape as a coda to Earl Sweatshirt's recent appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live, and even being subject to a shout-out from Beck back when that was actually worth a damn? It may never truly be Gary Wilson's "moment", but in a world where buzzworthy dorks namecheck R. Stevie Moore or Jandek as readily as Robert Johnson or Neil Young, he's at least achieved some degree of long-overdue notoriety.

The downside to Wilson finally thriving on that periphery, of course, is that his rare-ish live gigs in 2015 draw a peppering of clueless spuds in rumpled Express Men button-downs and baseball caps. At least the guy's finally getting paid. Lord knows nary a dime was made off his dome-splitting, home-recorded masterpiece You Think You Really Know Me upon its initial release in 1977 (a fact nearly as criminal as anything the Son of Sam did that same year). Besides, we all deserve a chance to take in the classics, even those of us with a pronounced proclivity for Axe Body Spray and strong opinions on American football.

Besides being Wilson's first time performing in Portland, this show was also my first time seeing him live. This was not for lack of trying on my part: in 2005, I spent my first visit to Wilson's hometown of San Diego desperately trying to meet him, hoping to better understand his work (though I would have settled for seeing him play in the pizza parlor lounge band he was in at the time). I was able to manage a brief telephone conversation with him during that trip, but we couldn't coordinate a meeting. Three years later, I performed a phone interview with him for Viva Radio, but the recording was marred by horrendous sound quality, and it never aired. When I was living in Michigan during the better part of the last decade, I was tantalised by Wilson's occasional east coast appearances, but my wallet would never allow for it. I'd thus began to believe that perhaps my relationship with Wilson was star-cross'd; as such, I spent the last few hours prior to this show waiting for the other shoe to fall yet again.

I'm happy to report, however, that the bad luck streak has finally been broken. Not only did Wilson perform, but his performance on this night crushed any and all reservations I might have had at its outset.

The current iteration of Wilson's backing band, The Blind Dates, includes none of his early co-conspirators, instead opting for a bunch of young California raisins made over in their leader's sacred image (duct tape, gaudy textile patterns, alien eyewear, etc.), playing his freaked-out songs with spunk and reverence. Included in their ranks is a seemingly superfluous hype man/dancer who would have been grating were he not so wholly consumed with both his craft and Wilson's muse, even submitting himself to physical assault during the collapsing middle section of superlative latter-day number 'Gary Saw Linda Last Night' (from the 2004 "comeback" album Mary Had Brown Hair). Moving around the stage like a cross between Hawkwind dancer Stacia and Napoleon Dynamite, the hype man's boundless energy, though musically useless, make's him an essential foil for Wilson's lumbering sad sack persona.

Showing himself to be a shrewd showman, Wilson sticks to the hits for this show, with only the highest points of his more recent work represented in a set otherwise dominated by fan favourites from You Think You really Know Me. Perhaps it's a gamble to drop his most famous song from that album, '6.4=Make Out', in the first ten minutes of the set, but it ends up playing as more brash and confident than reckless, given that nary a body was lost after that low-hanging fruit was picked (personally, he managed to fit all of my favorite songs in by set's end).

Not being the sort to dangle around the green room after a show, I still didn't get to meet Wilson this evening, nor to thank him for his patience with my ever-abortive attempts to discuss and promote his work. Still, with my expectations so thoroughly satisfied otherwise, I barely even noticed this oversight until well on my way home.