March 30, 2010

Wilco (The Epic Rock Show)

Wilco Review - Music Center at Strathmore - March 30, 2010

"When you leave here tonight, you will be very full." - Jeff Tweedy

He wasn't kidding around. In total, Jeff et al played an incredible, 37 career-spanning song lineup in three mini-sets that ranged from face-melting electric tunes to an intimate, living-room-like acoustic set complete with standing lamps and upright basses. The lights dimmed at 8:13 PM and didn't come back up until 11:15. "The motto for this tour is 'Leave 'em wanting less'," Tweedy jested. Well the joke is on... him(?) because I doubt anyone in attendance would have cut a single selection from this monster setlist (the setlist was so long that throughout the night, Tweedy had to lean down and squint to see the tiny font.)

Now is the part where I apologize in advance for rambling on and completely geeking out.

The band opened with Wilco (the song), preceded by a computer-generated introduction of the band's policies ("Here are things we welcome: audio recording; singing along; general merriment; shouting request between songs, although there are no guarantees that Wilco will honor them.") and the theme-music from Price is Right, and then went straight into Bull Black Nova. It was a nice one-two, new-stuff punch to get the crowd on their feet. Then the crowd got to hear some older stuff, including You Are My Face, IATTBYH, and Shot in the Arm. Gorgeous.

Per usual, the band played a seven song warm-up before Tweedy started engaging the crowd, a true master of ceremony. In this writer's opinion, nobody does it better than Jeff Tweedy; if you think you can outwit him, you're wrong; if you think you can shout something that will throw him off, you're wrong; if you think he can't play a solo standing on one leg, you're super wrong. Immediately, Tweedy accurately cited the above-average age of the listening audience. "What a nice audience... you really kicked up a ruckus back in the day huh? Just like me?" And the crowd ate it up. That's the kind of relationship Wilco has with its fans - its a wonderful back-and-forth, tongue-in-cheek ribbing from start to finish. People yelled out requests all night, and Tweedy ate it up. And on several occasions he called the crowd names: old, nihilists, family, teabaggers to name a few. He later apologized for some of the nastier ones.

But back to the show. The structure was a 13-song heavy electric set, followed by a transition to a more intimate, 11-song acoustic set, followed by a transition back to a bigger stage, 10-song set, and a 3-song encore. The use of the acoustic set was really quite ingenious; as the group jammed on Reservations, the road crew furiously setup a smaller staging area at the front-end of the stage, pushing the band forward and closer to the audience. Nels got out his Martin, John got his 3/4 electric bass and electric upright, a smaller kit was put out for Glenn, and a couple of basic keyboards were lined up for Mikael and Pat. Tweedy stayed front and center. The final flourish was a set of standing lamps, turning an arena-like rock staging into a 200 person coffee shop with a 60-watt glow. It was perfect, just perfect. After the acoustic set, the road crew disassembled the read-the-Sunday-evening-paper stage with equal expeditiousness, and the band went right back into their full stage show. Guitars kept coming from the road cases in a beautiful never-ending stream; so many guitars. Guitars, guitars, guitars.

Did I mention there was a raffle? There was a raffle. The band had a local restaurant (Addie's) donate some $150 gift cards, and the band selected 5 winners from the list of people who requested songs via their website. "Rock shows should have more raffles, right? In 30 years, that's what why we'll be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame." Fun. Followed by Forget the Flowers with John on upright and Nels bleeding his Martin dry. Gah, I'm geeking out again.

Did I mention Jeff played a guitar solo on one leg? He played a guitar solo on one leg. Not an easy one either. During I'm the Man Who Loves You (correct if I'm wrong on that but I think I'm right), Jeff leaned back, kicked one leg out, and began a solo. He held this pose for about a minute then leaned forward, kicking the same leg out behind him for the remaining 30 seconds of solo time.

Did I mention there was a sing-along? There was a sing-along. Jeff asked the crowd to sing Jesus, Etc. for him. Thanks to the grandeur of the hall, we didn't sound very good, but it was fun nonetheless.

So now the Good: Sound was amazing. Nels and Pat were running a clinic on musicianship. During the encore version of Hoodoo, the two went on a guitar-dual; Nels won handedly, but Pat put up a valiant effort (Jeff rolled his eyes.) The witty repartee from Tweedy and the audience. The sheer breadth of the song selection. The energy in the venue. The harmonies on... well everything but California Stars especially. I started to write out setlist highlights, but I was listing every other song, so just look at the setlist (pictured above. This is an actual page from the stage that a nice lady let us take a picture of - thanks lady!)

The Bad: No pictures - not sure if this is a Wilco requirement or a Strathmore one, but it was very disappointing. I got busted before the band even came out (see my poor iphone pic below),
so I gave up trying to capture my own photos early. ClickTrack has a few posted, so you can get a feel for the atmosphere on their site. There was also one curmudgeonly old man sitting behind us yelling at everyone to sit down. Sorry fella, you're at a rock show. You're lucky people sat for the acoustic set. Finally, my location made the sound a little wonky, as we could hear both the PA mix as well as the actual amps themselves. I could have used about twice as much Nels where we were. And that's it - three minor, minuscule, immaterial details.

In case you haven't been able to decipher my gibberish, this show blew away my already lofty expectations. A three-hour, 37-song, nonstop rock show will do it every time. Wilco, [we] love ya baby.


  1. Appropriately reverent--like going to the church of concerts and worshipping a musical Jesus. Bingo!

  2. Great review of an amazing show! I was in the last row in the upper tier, but still had great sight lines and the sound was terrific. I left the Strathmore with a big goofy smile on my face.

  3. Thanks Chris. Glad to hear the sound was as good as I thought it would be up top. And speaking of goofiness, you should hear some of the geeky commentary recreationaluse and I make during the show. I picked most of it up on my iphone recording of the show. Aaaaand that is why it will never see the light of day.