Wilco fans need to wake the heck up. You’re at a rock and roll show, so get out of yer chair and dance. Some people claim it was the venue, and I’m sure the Overture Center’s stuffy ambiance was partially to blame. It’s a sterile modern hall, haphazardly upscale, good sound but not much personality, more suited for the symphony than a rock concert, as the designers clearly intended. But I didn’t see any signs that said REMAIN IN YOUR SEAT AT ALL TIMES, and unless there was oppressive security on the balcony levels that I wasn’t aware of, nobody was stopping you from dancing except self-policing uptight, lazy attendees. Whatever the case, I learned my lesson: never go see a show at the OC expecting to dance unless you can get floor seats. Or is it just that the average Wilco fan gets old at a younger age?
One more paragraph about the venue: crappy beer selection. This is Wisconsin. Spotted Cow is an okay beer, but a couple other non-macros and/or imports would be preferred. And if you want to bring your beer into the actual auditorium, that first one’s a doozy: eight bucks, thanks to a ridiculous little landfill-clogging sippy-cup lid that you have to put on your cup. News flash: no beer will be spilled anyway, because nobody’s dancing. Apparently you can refill for regular price (five bucks) after the first one. Nobody’s fooled by this red environmentalist herring. If you can refill that cup, you could refill my regular one if you wanted to.
Now that I got all that out of my system…I won’t remember any of these distractions in a year, because what sticks out in my mind is the astounding set of music by Wilco. After two straight nights of Trey (in Milwaukee and Chicago), I couldn’t even tell you what was the best show I saw last weekend.
All I really craved was a face-melting “Via Chicago”, my quest ever since seeing the Ashes Of American Flags documentary last year. I knew we would get the aching “One Wing”, which becomes one of the band’s all-time greats when they play it live. I knew my all-time fave, “A Shot In The Arm”, was going to put a lump in my throat as always. I knew Glenn Kotche would once again enhance his status as the Stewart Copeland of his generation with a knockout “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart”. Knew Nels Cline was going to ssssshred “Bull Black Nova” and “Handshake Drugs”, and that the crowd would lovingly belt out “Jesus, Etc.” as best we could.
Wasn’t necessarily prepared for “At Least That’s What You Said”, the chill/RAAAAAGE yin-yang of the night. It had been great in Chicago last October, but this one took off like an angry flock of helicopters. Never expected “When The Roses Bloom Again”, apparently the most-requested song on the band’s website and an exceedingly rare treat. I had no idea what I’d been missing before by not being able to watch Kotche up close; his power and finesse have always been obvious, but watching the subtle yet almost frightening control he exhibited in “Deeper Down” convinced me that he is the Bruce Lee of drummers.
I didn’t expect “You Never Know” to develop from a Wilburys-style lite FM anthem into this much more rough-hewn rocker. I didn’t anticipate the all-out dance party (for at least ten or so people in the audience, anyway) that “Hummingbird” would be, the perfect set-closer. Didn’t realize Neil Young’s “Broken Arrow” was a possibility, but what an incredible performance of this song. And I’d only HOPED that my first non-Chicago Wilco show would yield a “Via Chicago”, but there it was, second song of the encore, every bit as disturbing and powerful as I knew it could be. And I almost didn’t go to this show. Man, I would’ve been crushed; best Wilco show I’ve seen yet.
A lot of fans have complained that Wilco shows are getting too formulaic, but the way it feels to me is that the band is approaching the pinnacle of its current evolutionary stage. They’re not stretching out or experimenting much, nor are they changing up the setlists sufficiently for a lot of folks. What they are doing is honing the material they are feeling right now into the most intense swell-to-bursting surges of emotion that they can, and it’s paying off in these visceral, passionate performances. You never know how much time Tweedy and co. have left to be playing at maximum power, and it’s a blessing to be able to catch them while they’re still at the absolute top of their game.