QC THROW BACK REVIEW: WILCO

post and illustration by chris duffy

The days seemingly grow longer and the gray looming over the skyscrapers starts to be punctured by eager sunlight. Temperatures tip-toe higher and coats peel away into jackets, soon to be shed all together like bogging snakeskin.

Artist: Wilco
Song: I’m the Man Who Loves You


But as this all unfolds slowly along with the pedals on blooming flowers, it is not the warm weather that excites me. It’s something else.

Yes, it is Spring again. Bared flesh reveals itself after hibernating, diners eating al fresco swallow the sidewalks, flirting runs rampant and grills are readied. Spring means all of these things and more. But this year Spring also brings with it something else: Wilco.

QC Bonus: Here’s a zip containing Wilco’s entire set @ The Spectrum in Philly on 12/12

Not only are Jeff Tweedy and Co. releasing their first live dvd on April 18th, they’re also completing a new studio album, yet to be titled, that will then be unleashed in June. On top of this are their rounds of touring. Their engines will take them from Burlington, Vermont on March 26 to other various places around the country ( most shows are already sold out). And then they’ll be ocean hopping over to Spain and beyond before returning home to promote the next album, produced by Jim Scott.

The prospect of a live dvd is mouth-watering. Just having live audio of the band is sensational. Their live album from 2005, Kicking Televison- Live in Chicago, left me baffled at how they orchestrated in real time the sonic structures and musical movements for songs such as Radio Cure and Jesus, etc. Countless other shows have been captured and spread over the Internet, some released intentionally by the band, many others not.

Their pursuit of quality leads one to believe that they’ll most likely put together a pretty decent dvd package. They put care and consideration into what they give their fans. This was exemplified months ago when on their website they warned against buying the Blue-Ray editions of Sam Jones’ doc I Am Trying to Break Your Heart because they felt there was no need to shell out more money for the assumed, but not proven, higher quality.

Finally the Wilco experience will be documented visually and aurally. Of course, this will fall short of an actual live Wilco experience. After such an experience watching Wilco glowing on a magic box with limited sound just won’t cut it. It is the promise of upcoming Wilco live shows this Spring and Summer that truly inspire the warm feeling of euphoric anticipation within me this season.

I witnessed such an event last August 13th at what was my favorite venue in this City, the Macarren Park Pool in Williamsburg. I got a ticket the very day of after a ravenous search through Craigslist for any tickets at all.

I didn’t go to work and instead waited outside the gates for hours before the show along with some younger fans and enthusiasts. We applauded the bumbling soundcheck. To kill time I circled the venue multiple times trying to sneak a peek at Mr. Tweedy, one of my favorite songwriters. I managed to receive a weirded-out glance from multi-instrumentalist Pat Sansone instead.

Once inside the Pool I rushed to the front of the stage, dead center. The band eventually appeared to a roaring welcome from the 5000 body deep crowd. Without a word they slipped into the hazy strum of Via Chicago. Glenn Kotche squeezed the first beads of sweat from his pores. Mid-set the drummer appeared to have crawled from the shower. The amazing Nels Cline splattered an electric groan from his guitar over the chords. The climax of the song made me disappointed that the show which I was witnessing would have to end at all. The band untangled the song structure into ordered chaos. Cymbals bounce off frantic keyboards and blustery buzzed guitars until the sound drips together again and peaks into the last words of the song. It ends with Tweedy groaning ‘ I’m coming home, I’m coming home…’ And standing there you forget he might actually be homesick. It feels like he is home as the Pool, crammed with a rolling tide of flesh, howls their love and adoration.

With a cloudless blue sky above the band continue with the next song, a rarity off of their Mermaid Avenue collabortions with Billy Bragg, Blood of the Lamb. The addition of a clarinet is dribbled like butterscotch over the song and leaves one hungry for more.

It takes several songs, among them You Are My Face, Hummingbird, and I am Trying to Break Your Heart, until Mr. Tweedy finally acknowledges that he’s in front of a crowd of people. He bends to the mic and says ” How you doin’? Pretty good? ..It’s lovely…Every thing’s just been flowing from one song to the other up, I’m sorry. I don’t mean to ignore you and not say ‘ hi’ or anything-We know you’re there…Hi “.

Throughout the night he’s jovial, sarcastic and charming.

Each song performed that evening was artfully performed and tight. The best way to hear any of the songs is live. It still boggles my mind after realizing the mixing and editing that goes into the studio versions and then witnessing the band performing them for my pupils and eardrums.

As the evening progressed, well…evening progressed. The sky melted from blue to wet indigo and eventually the Pool was canopied with a shroud of purple night sky complete with glittering stars. It was as if it was part of the light show controlled by invisible fingers on unseen knobs.

The highlight for me came at the last song of the first set which was Spiders from A Ghost is Born, the sixteenth song performed that evening. Mid-song, as the band is locked into a groove, Tweedy slung his guitar to the side and clapped to the rhythm. He approached the mic as the ocean of bobbing heads joined in, meeting their palms to the beat.

” Take it, ” Jeff tweedy implored everyone. ” Take it, it’s yours. It’s your rhythm. It’s a simple one, a simple beat, but maybe someday it will grow into something else.”

The band stayed in the sparkling groove, Mr. Kotche subduing his drum kit to allow the audience’ s beat to reign. Slowly the audience transformed the simple clapped beat into a different one. It surfaced from the back, spreading out until the entire crowd had mastered a percussive fill in unison, successfully making it grow before another attempt failed and corroded into an aborted scattering of applause. But we had done it.

Tweedy announced, ” Y’know, we’ve played that song all around the world and that’s the first time an audience actually successfully did that.” A burst of self-appreciative applause waved through the crowd. ” Leave it to Brooklyn, you bunch of free-thinkers,” he continued. ” Y’know, my dad once said ‘ Bob Dylan must smoke a lot of grass because he’s a free thinker’ .”

The band left the stage after 16 songs as the crowd implored for more. A friend of mine who became a convert during the performance emitted snarling hoots and howls. He claims no memory of this: his body just needed more Wilco.

They re-appeared to play 6 more songs, left and again the audience screamed for more. After it was evident nobody was budging, they came back out to play six more songs, only stopping because of the ten o’clock curfew at the outdoor venue. In all twenty-seven songs were performed, at least one song featured from each of their seven albums. A handful of the tunes were performed with a back-up brass and woodwind band, the Total Pros, adding a much appreciated layer of blaring sound to some of the songs including Pieholden Suite, Can’t Stand It, Walken and Outtasite Outtamind.

My experience last August has caused me to be thrifty this past Winter. I’ve passed up shows I’ve wanted eagerly to attend, but after checking up on the old account balance, have regrettably missed. Instead I’m saving up for this Spring and Summer. Not for a cruise or renting a beach house. Just to see Wilco, any where, any how.

Spring is a Season of change. And cleaning. If you find yourself cleaning the cracks of the couch, dusting under the carpets and groping under furniture discovering a handful of your miscellaneous change, save it up and spend it on a Wilco show. Then go on that cruise.

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