Popularity should never gauge the caliber of a concert, but last week, Wilco proved just why they can sell out a 2,000-seat venue in a span of minutes. The Chicago folk rockers—and we use the term lightly—took to the stage without so much as a “hello” on Friday night, chugging through “Reservations,” “Art of Almost,” and “I Might” before crossing the banter bridge. Fittingly, it was “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart” that finally brought frontman Jeff Tweedy out of his shell. Sonically, the song mixed Wilco’s twangier qualities with their precision-like ability to jam out, and after it was over, Tweedy sweetly guffawed his impending Grammy nod, encouraging folks not to watch, as the band’s category would not make the live broadcast cut.
Throughout the night, Tweedy offered modest asides to the crowd, as if to break up the chugging musical onslaught that he and his bandmates were putting forth. Among the highlights, “Impossible Germany” rang out the loudest, moving from a gentle, melodic, and vocal-heavy exercise for Tweedy to a psychedelic mélange of guitar noise, galloping drum work, and dueling keyboards and organs. It also stood as a prime example of Nels Cline’s dizzying fretwork, and his undeniable status as one of this era’s great guitar heroes.
Still, that was only a fraction of Friday’s 25-track offering, which featured catalog cuts as glorious and wide-ranging as “Capitol City,” “Handshake Drugs,” “I’m the Man Who Loves You,” and raucous night-ender “Hoodoo Voodoo,” which featured a guest appearance by a shirtless and shaker-wielding White Denim. It was a lengthy, but never lulling, affair, and an affirming testament to the state of popular music as we know it. n
By Paul Wellman