Oct 12, 2009
Wilco (The Concert)
This concert was about three years in the making for me. Wilco tours constantly, but for some reason I kept missing them when they came to Oregon. I even have a promotional poster from a show they played in Bend that has been teasing me from my wall for the last year. I snagged the cheap-paper poster from a light post in Southeast Portland even though I didn't make it to that show.
Finally, after I knew I was moving to Kansas City, I saw that they were touring the Midwest. Granted, at an outdoor show in October in the Midwest is crazy, but it was still Wilco. After all this time I finally got to see what the hype was about their live show.
It's not just hype. I've seen a lot of concerts, but musically their performance at Grinders on Oct. 6 is up there on my list. They aren't flashy. They find no need for fancy backdrops or nonsensical banter, but they know how to play a brilliant rock show. It helps that they are six incredible musicians with a decade and a half of experience playing together (for most of the band).
They began the set with "Wilco (The Song)." I guess that if a band writes a song about themselves, they're fated to opening every subsequent live set with that song. No complaints because it's a good song, despite the ironic cheesiness.
While I'd heard that the band has quite the sense of humor and truly cares about its audience, they didn't speak a word between songs for the first eight or nine songs. They didn't need to. The music spoke for itself.
Wilco played democratically from the newest album (Wilco (The Album)) and dug back in the vaults more than a decade, including playing songs from Mermaid Avenue, Wilco and Billy Bragg's interpretation of Woody Guthrie's unrecorded lyrics.
On songs old and new, lead guitarist Nels Cline made any other guitarist's solos look like a joke. Called "one of the best guitarists in any genre" by David Carr of the New York Times (article here), Cline proved that he deserved this title. But it wasn't just the flashy guitar riffs. Each musician proved himself at the top of his instrument, including the two keyboardists/weird sound makers.
Amidst the stellar instrumentation, one thing stood above it all. Lead singer and songwriter Jeff Tweedy remained in control of the show. But Tweedy has far from the most booming voice in rock music. His gentle voice instead allowed room for more emotion than I could explain. Tweedy is in absolute control of his voice, whether in a soft, almost whisper, or a raucous scream. I've never seen anything quite like it.
Despite the lack of conversation in the beginning, Wilco eventually had plenty to say between nearly every song. Tweedy even addressed those screaming requests. Showing the band's passion for politics, Tweedy advised the audience to take a democratic poll while the band was backstage at the encore. While the poll didn't take place as expected, a request was decided upon, and Tweedy even joked about the UN coming in to observe our democratic practices.
Through the freezing weather (really, it snowed only a few miles away four days after the show. I know Wilco's from Chicago and this probably isn't cold to them, but that's ridiculous. October is too late for an outdoor show in the Midwest.) and the good humor of band and audience alike, nothing stood through as much as the music. Excellent instrumentalists yet with a vocalist in great control of his voice, Wilco is one of the best bands currently making music. And it's good to see that their live show exhibits just that: the music.
Two videos I took that still don't give justice:
Wilco - "I am Trying to Break Your Heart"
Wilco - "I'll Fight"