“His vocal chords are made of gold. He just looks a little too old.”
The unconverted might interpret this line (a lyric from “Late Greats”) as Jeff Tweedy’s tongue-in-cheek stab at his audience, as his music is sometimes labeled “dad-rock.” The more cynical may attribute this line to Tweedy himself; Wilco’s frontman is 44 and despite his fantastic pipes, does sometimes give off the impression of a dad dressed in a bad suit.
But for anyone who has seriously listened to Wilco, it’s clear that this isn’t the case. And if you’ve seen the band in concert, you know well that this is not “dad-rock,” Tweedy is not too old, and Wilco is one of the greatest live bands out there.
Last night’s performance at Boston’s Wang Theater, my first Wilco show, was a welcome introduction to the glory of how this band, with country-rock origins, manages to put on a show of brilliant grandeur; with soothing jams evolving into cacophonic discord, before coming back down to earth to finish the audience off with good old rock music.
The stage was set up simply; three standing light fixtures, each looking almost like a stack of pillowy sandbags, lined each side of the stage, creating a nice artsy touch to the lighting. Strobe lights were implemented as well, focusing mainly on the back half of the stage, such that when Tweedy stood close to the edge of the stage, it appeared as if he was just a solid cutout in front of his flickering bandmates. But beyond the creative lighting, the stage was pretty barebones; the lack of backdrop or fancy setup allowed the music, the focus of the evening, to speak for itself.
The band opened with the opening track of their forthcoming album The Whole Love, called “Art of Almost.” As fantastic as this Radiohead-esque (think “15 Step”) track sounds on the album, it’s even more unbelievable in concert. Nels Cline, lead-guitar extraordinaire, showed off his noise-making capabilities on this one, as he utilized multiple guitars and myriad pedals and effects to create the glorious noises of this track. The heavy beat, combined with Nels’ sounds and Tweedy’s voice incited the elderly man in my row to break out in a wildly jerky dance (see: “dad-rock”). The band continued with “I Might,” the first single off the album before launching into “Black Moon,” a soft country ballad that’s as beautiful as it is sweet.
As the band moved into songs off their earlier albums, I noticed a few things. First, almost every Wilco song sounds like a classic Wilco song; even tracks off the yet-unreleased album, and 2008’s Wilco (The Album) sounded like classic Wilco tracks – a feat only possibly by a band who’s songwriting brilliance doesn’t wane with each subsequent album.
The second thing I noticed was that this band loves cacophony. Wilco loves taking something beautiful, smashing it upside the head, and glueing the pieces back together to create something even more beautiful than before. The number of times that the band (led by Nels, of course) dove into noisy shoegaze style interludes was a pleasant surprise to me, and the crowd rocked out in kind.
Tweedy joked with the audience about the set length, saying “Last time we were in Boston we played 39 songs… It’s never gonna happen again.” And although the set was a short 20 songs this time, it was full of the songs I wanted to hear. “One Sunday Morning (Song for Jane Smiley’s Boyfriend)” was as beautiful as it was haunting, and despite not knowing the song beforehand, the crowd cheered wildly as the track reached it’s peak (around the 10-minute mark). “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart,” from 2001’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was one of the highlights for me, as were “Handshake Drugs,” “Impossible Germany,” and “At Least That’s What You Said.” Actually, as I look through the setlist I’m amazed how no songs were filler, and none was any less impressive than the last.
After closing out the first set with a crowd pleasing “Shot In The Arm,” the band quickly returned to the stage to open the encore with my favorite Wilco song of all time “The Late Greats.” After shouting “Let’s do this!” Tweedy and Co. launched into the track from 2004’s A Ghost Is Born. A sped-up version of “I’m The Man Who Loves You” followed by two stellar tracks off the bands sophomore album Being There: “Monday” and “Outtasite (Outta Mind)”. Both tracks are raucous country rockers, for which the band (and crowd) went all out, including guitarist Pat Sansone, who spent the two songs doing leg kicks, Pete Townshend windmills, and wailing on his guitar while striking open stance, badass, rocker poses.
Which brings us back to the opening lyric about Romeo’s voice being the greatest in rock and roll, though his looks are slightly aged. Wilco, has been around for almost 20 years. They are a bit older than some, and may be categorized as “dad-rock” by others. But in the end of the day, they write brilliant alternative rock, put on mind bending performances, and have a good time doing it all.
As I got into the cab after the show, the cabbie asked me what event was letting out. When I told him it was a Wilco show, he remarked “that’s why there are all these hippies and dads in Pixies t-shirts.” But that’s the most brilliant part of it all. This is a band that can unite young and old, that can bring dads back to concert venues, and can make a man in his 60s lose his shit while dancing his ass off. This is live music. This is art. This is Wilco.
Check out the setlist below, head over to Wilco’s site to pre-order their new album The Whole Love (which comes out next Tuesday), and check out the rest of their tour dates. If they’re coming anywhere near where you live, make it your business to get yourself to the show, and experience the undeniable awesomeness of Wilco.
Art of Almost
I Am Trying to Break Your Heart
Bull Black Nova
At Least That’s What You Said
One Sunday Morning (Song For Jane Smiley’s Boyfriend)
Shouldn’t Be Ashamed
War On War
Dawned On Me
Shot in the Arm
The Late Greats
I’m the Man Who Loves You
Outtasite (Outta Mind)
US Tour Dates
09-16 Toronto, Ontario – Massey Hall
09-17 Toronto, Ontario – Massey Hall
09-18 Montreal, Quebec – Metropolis
09-20 Boston, MA – Wang Theatre
09-22 New York, NY – Central Park Summerstage
09-23 New York, NY – Central Park Summerstage
09-25 Columbia, MD – Merriweather Post Pavilion
09-27 Raleigh, NC – Raleigh Amphitheater
09-28 Atlanta, GA – Cobb Energy Performing Arts Center
09-29 Atlanta, GA – Cobb Energy Performing Arts Center
10-01 Nashville, TN – The Ryman (Sold Out)
10-02 Nashville, TN – The Ryman (Sold Out)
10-04 St. Louis, MO – Peabody Opera House (Sold Out)
10-05 Madison, WI – Overture Hall (Sold Out)