Originally Published for ArtsFuse on 10/2/11
In his self-referential song, “Wilco The Song,” lead singer/chief lyricist/guitarist Jeff Tweedy earnestly sings, “this is a fact that you need to know . . . Wilco will love you baby.” Well, on September 20th, Wilco showed the hundreds of adoring fans at the Wang Theatre in Boston just how true this devotion is.
Wilco started the show off by setting off a blaze of blue searchlights that flickered helter-skelter through the theater, followed by the sound of fuzzy bass chords, shimmering keys, distortion, frantic drumming, and sporadic guitar hits. The chaos soon turned into “Art Of Almost,” the surprisingly electronic, off-kilter rocker that should dispel any suggestions that Wilco has descended into dad rock. Guitarist Nels Cline delivered the song’s frenzied guitar solo with such ferocity that it is easy to forget that he’s a 56-year-old, ex-session guitarist. The number is a brilliant opener for both the show and the band’s recently released The Whole Love.
Fittingly, as on the new album, “I Might” followed. This drum-pounding, organ-heavy, and cheerful tune is far from the rocketing intensity of the preceding song, yet it did not feel out of place given Wilco’s penchant for sonic experimentation. After playing one more ditty from the new album, Wilco played their modern classic, “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart” from their critically praised fourth album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Whipped out of a cacophony of feedback, bells, off-time drumming, and acoustic strumming, the song bounced back and forth between the walls of the theater, entrancing listeners before dropping us into heavenly disorder at the end.
Throughout the performance, Wilco played gorgeous rock music, then subsequently destroyed the hard-charging melodies by rushing into a mess of distortion and anxiety, then ending on a note of reassuring calm. It was messy, and yet it wasn’t . . . a perfectly orchestrated mess.
No song encompasses this kind of organized madness like “At Least That’s What You Said” (“ALTWSD”). Jeff Tweedy starts the song off by softly singing over barely audible guitar and piano. It’s peaceful yet also depressing, and the conflict doesn’t prepare you for what’s to come. After two minutes, everything stops and Tweedy loudly strums his guitar. What follows are five-minutes that are best described, as Tweedy himself puts it, a “music transcription” of one his many panic attacks (Uncut Magazine).
“ALTWYS” was Jeff Tweedy’s highlight of the night; instead of letting Nels Cline do all the guitar work, Tweedy took back the reins and delivered solo after solo, a celebration of one of his finest songs. It’s no coincidence that “ALTWYS” was composed when Tweedy was still Wilco’s lead guitarist.
Other highlights of the night include . . . well . . . the whole thing. “Whole Love” and “Born Alone” are two standouts on the new album and shone bright when played live. “Impossible Germany” showed off Nels Cline at his best, while “A Shot In The Arm” featured pulse-pounding drumming.
The memorable show ended on the one-two punch of “Monday” and “Outtasite (Outta Mind).” These extremely catchy rockers left the audience craving even more music. Honestly, the first thought I had when the two-hour show wrapped up was, when will I see this band again?
However, here’s where I have a complaint with the concert set-up, not with the band. The 11 p.m Boston curfew continues to mitigate the potential for great live shows. In this case, Wilco’s rush to finish by 11 p.m. meant that the band had to cut out “Pot Kettle Black,” “Jesus, ETC,” and my personal favorite, “Via Chicago.” Robbing an audience of Wilco fans from hearing those tunes live is an aesthetic crime.
Here’s the moral of the story: If Wilco lands in your hometown, you must see them.
1. Art of Almost
2. I Might
3. Black Moon
4. I Am Trying To Break Your Heart
5. One Wing
6. Blue Black Nova
7. At Least That’s What You Said
8. One Sunway Morning (For Jane Smiley’s Boyfriend)
9. Shouldn’t Be Ashamed
10. Whole Love
11. War On War
12. Born Alone
13. Handshake Drugs
14. Impossible Germany
15. Dawned On Me
16. A Shot In The Arm
17. The Late Greats
18. I’m The Man Who Loves You
20. Outtasite (Outta Mind)