I’ve seen Wilco live before.
In documentaries and DVDs, on late night talk shows and web video shows (I highly recommend NPR’s tiny desk concert), but I’ve never experienced the unmistakable thrill of being in the audience at a Wilco show.
Numerous opportunities have come along, but being that I fit into the core fan segment of ‘dads who who like dad rock (though strangely, Wilco are the only band I’ve ever heard that term used),’ the kids always put it ‘Outtasite (Outta Mind).’
I first heard Wilco through 30 second clips of ‘Misunderstood’ and ‘Monday’ from Being There, on a music magazine CD-ROM called Launch. Soon, I listened as my favorite radio station (CD101) started playing ‘Can’t Stand It’ and placed ‘California Stars’ in heavy rotation. I witnessed firsthand the Internet’s response to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot online stream and the music industry unravel itself as a result.
After every trial, transformation and triumph (artistic, commercial, and personal) however, Tweedy and company have never let me down and remained consistently ‘Wilco’.
There’s no arguing Jeff Tweedy is one of the greatest songwriters of the last 15 years and on a hot Saturday night in Columbus, Ohio, he and John (Stirratt), and Nels (Cline), and Glenn (Kotche), and Mikael(Jorgensen), and Pat (Sansone) proved why they are one of the greatest live American rock’n’roll bands around.
Starting off with ‘Art of Almost’ and shimmying and shifting through an impressively balanced set that totalled 27 songs in all, Wilco delivered a stunning live introduction I, and thousands of others soon would not forget. Why?
Take your pick!
For some, it was seeing Tweedy at his most breezy possibly ever. The chief Wilco man did a lot of non-posturing in the way he teased a goofy little dance, poked fun at Mikael for flipping out when a moth flew in his shirt during ‘Hummingbird,’ charging “That’s no reason to stop the show, Mikael.” Explaining how audience participation works (“This is getting meta. This here is rock’n’roll 101.”) Making playful jabs at the venue name (Lifestyle Communities Pavillion), “It rolls right off the tongue”, even adding it to the chorus for “Kingpin.”
For others, it was Nels’ virtuosic playing on ‘Impossibly Germany’ and possibly every other song where Cline was able to single-handedly make the winning case for the perpetuation of the guitar solo through advancement of the form. Like a runner trying to keep up with the machine gunner’s need for more ammo, they must have given him 30+ guitars throughout the night and he exhausted every last one.
For everyone though, what made this night and this show so incredible was getting to see all versions of the band make it to the stage at some point. There was White Album Wilco, American Radiohead Wilco, Country Rockin’ Wilco, Late Era Lennon Wilco, and even Power Poppin’ Wilco.
Treated to 27 songs with only The Whole Love (the album they were touring in support of) trumping all other represented albums by only one song (six total). If you were there and you didn’t hear at least one of your favorite songs, you weren’t really there.
This was a crowd pleasing show if ever there was one.
The highlights for me were almost too many to count, but seeing the true next step in Wilco’s evolution live, ‘Art of Almost’ was a great start. This song is quickly surpassing ‘Spiders (Kidsmoke)’ as my favorite 21st century rock’n’roll long jam.
Also, seeing and hearing live staples ‘A Shot In The Arm’ and ‘Via Chicago’ (with much more organized chaotic drumming from Glenn and dissonance from Nels than ever before), ‘Impossibly Germany’ (even with one of Nels’ amps blown), ‘Dawned On Me,’ ‘Hate It Here”’ (the most laid-back and fun-loving full band performance of the night), ‘I’m The Man Who Loves You,’ ‘Kingpin,’, the surprise of the “hit” being played – ‘Heavy Metal Drummer,’ and by far the completely unexpected closer (and my favorite song off A.M.,) ‘Casino Queen’.
I’m pretty sure the best time anyone could have had on a sweltering Summer Saturday night in Columbus, Ohio was kicking TV in favor of experiencing Wilco play at “The Lifestyle Communities Pavillion.”
For the record, Jeff – we just call it The L-C.
All photos courtesy of Cary Whitt, you can see more from the show on Flickr here