Concert Review: Wilco / Boston, MA
Reviewed by: Dorise Gruber
Wilco (the Song) – Wilco (the Album)
Bull Black Nova – Wilco (the Album)
You Are My Face – Sky Blue Sky
I Am Trying to Break Your Heart – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
One Wing – Wilco (the Album)
Shot in the Arm – Summerteeth
One by One – Mermaid Avenue (w/Billy Bragg)
Either Way – Sky Blue Sky
Comapny in my Back – A Ghost is Born
Sunny Feeling – Wilco (the Album)
Handshake Drugs – A Ghost is Born
Impossible Germany – Sky Blue Sky
It’s Just That Simple – AM
California Stars – Mermaid Avenue (w/Billy Bragg)
Poor Places – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
Spiders (Kidsmoke) – A Ghost is Born
How to Fight Loneliness – Summerteeth
Forget the Flowers – Being There
You and I – Wilco (the Album)
Someday Some Morning Sometime – Mermaid Avenue (w/Billy Bragg)
Laminated Cat – Loose Fur (Tweedy/Kotche side project)
When You Wake Up Feeling Old – Summerteeth
War On War – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
Passenger Side – AM
I Must Be High – AM
Airline to Heaven – Mermaid Avenue (w/Billy Bragg)
Via Chicago – Summerteeth
Theologians – A Ghost is Born
You Never Know – Wilco (the Album)
Jesus, Etc. – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
Hate it Here – Sky Blue Sky
Heavy Metal Drummer – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
I’m Always in Love – Summerteeth
Walken – Sky Blue Sky
I’m the Man Who Loves You – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
Thank You Friends (Big Star Cover)
Dreamer in My Dreams – Being There
Casino Queen – AM
Outtasite (Outta Mind) – Being There
It’s hard to classify a band like Wilco, made up of front man and guitarist Jeff Tweedy, John Stirratt on bass and in charge of most harmonies, Nels Cline on lead guitar, Mikael Jorgensen on keyboard, multi-instrumentalist Pat Sansone, and drummer Glenn Kotche. When you’ve been playing over 15 years, with sound, energy, and members changing over time (all except for Tweedy and Stirratt), the genres Wilco encompass tend to evolve and blend together, resulting in an incredibly rich concert experience that spans pure country, alt country, experimental, straight up Rock and Roll, and after their show at the Orpheum on April 6th, dare I add flamenco?
With such long-standing history, the audience was made up of what I’ve come to expect from Wilco shows – you’re not just rocking out with the college kids, but your high school librarian and your hippie great uncle are bobbing around in the crowd as well. This show was Wilco’s first time playing in Boston proper in the last couple of years, not to mention indoors. While I think there’s something more invigorating about an outdoor Wilco performance on the outskirts of town – the location weeding out all but the most dedicated fans and watching Tweedy settle right at home with the Elements – after their last Massachusetts show was cut significantly by a flash downpour, it was a relief to not worry about the finicky gray skies outside the theatre.
The set-up indoors was pretty simple, adornments including only colored lighting, flashing light fixtures shaped like tuning-fork candelabras, and a camel-face screen on Kotche’s kick drum, a nod to the cover of their most recent album, appropriately titled Wilco (the Album). When the band moved to the front of the stage for an acoustic bout, they chose to forgo the more dramatic lighting in favor of antique, dim-lit lampshades, providing a much more mysterious, intimate feel.
The show was broadcast over their website, http://www.www.wilcoworld.net, for all fans to appreciate, and they played an *incredible* 36-song set, divided into three sections – one acoustic set sandwiched between two plugged-in sets. The first set featured mostly recent hits, the acoustic brought tons of throw-backs, and the final set was imbued with Wilco classics. It closely mirrored their set-list from two days prior in Providence, with a few surprises and a few alterations on song choice or plugged-ness. All told, the full sets were followed by three songs in the encore, clocking in at just around 3 hours. While Wilco has brought in some huge names to share the stage with them in the last couple years, if it means instead of an 18-25 song Wilco set I’d get a 39-song performance, I’ll pick that option every time.
I’d be remiss to not mention some peculiarities in their mid-show banter, where Tweedy presented two dinner gift-certificates to Craigie on Main for folks with some of the most obscure song requests, and later mimicked the bizarre way an audience member yelled for Jesus, Etc., one of their most tender melodies, as if he were the lead singer from Gwar. Beyond the giveaways and chatter, most notably they announced their upcoming August 3-day Wilco-palooza, a festival called Solid Sound at MASS MoCA (Museum of Contemporary Art) in North Adams, MA. This will be Wilco’s only New England stop this coming summer, and not only will they be headlining, but Wilco side-projects will be featured throughout the weekend as well.
Because Wilco hasn’t really been a huge success in the mainstream sense of the word, it’s a little puzzling to talk about crowd favorites, as their fans tend to be pretty well-versed in the majority of their catalog. Some show highlights included prolific Nels Cline solos in You Are My Face and Impossible Germany, Mikael Jorgensen playing the keyboard with a pillow for Shot in the Arm, John Stirratt’s lead vocals in It’s Just That Simple, Jeff Tweedy’s Spanish-style guitar in How to Fight Loneliness, and some rarely-played songs from Wilco/Billy Bragg collaborations like Forget the Flowers and Someday Some Morning Sometime off Mermaid Avenue, not to mention Laminated Cat from Glenn Kotche and Jeff Tweedy’s side project Loose Fur. The largest crowd reaction was likely from Jesus, Etc., which had the entire audience singing the first two full verses before Tweedy leapt in to help us with the bridge. The biggest surprise of the night, however, was the appearance of Spiders (Kidsmoke) in the acoustic set instead of during the electric one. Playing the song acoustically gave it a mellower feel than the original, and brought new life to one of their older classics.
For a band with six members, the richness of sound Wilco is able to construct is not simply deep, but most interestingly features a kind of organized chaos. The orchestral breakdowns fall apart and then get sewn back together so smoothly you barely notice how dissonant the chords making waves in your eardrums just sounded. The prime example of this is in Via Chicago, where Tweedy’s lazy, gruffly sweet vocals ride calmly over a thunderstorm of sound, suddenly muting down to just him and solo guitar.
Make no mistake, though Wilco is a band that overflows with talent, Jeff Tweedy is the artistic genius driving the ship. Oftentimes when bands have such complicated, calculated instrumentals, the quality of the lyrics never quite live up to the promise of the melody. This is not the case for Tweedy’s lyrics, which in some cases are quite literally Poetry with a capital “P,” taken directly from his publication Adult Head, a book of Tweedy’s poetry. Only Jeff Tweedy could make the melancholy lyrics “I am trying to break your heart” cause couples to snuggle closer to each other. There’s something very believable and endearing in the way that he alternates between cooing and screaming to his audience. If you were listening closely, you may have even caught that in the love song Walken, Tweedy replaced the first round of lyrics “The more I think about it/The more I’m sure it’s you” with his wife’s name, Sue. It is this sort of authenticity that, combined with Tweedy’s creative instincts and general swagger, sells out shows in minutes. Wilco fans love him and he loves us back, and after going to just one show, I guarantee you’ll be hooked for life.