Friday, June 29, 2007

Wilco at Warsaw: Happenstance Has Changed My Plans

Jeff Tweedy singing with Nels Cline in the background. Photo from my cell phone since I couldn't bring in my cameras.

After listening to Wilco's live in Chicago album Kicking Television over and over again, I knew Wilco would be amazing live. I needed to see Jeff Tweedy sing and play his guitar accompanied by guitarist Nels Cline, bassist John Stirrat, guitarist/keyboardist/maracas shaker/etc. Pat Sansone, drummer Glenn Kotche and keyboardist Mikael Jorgensen.

With that, Josh and I bought tickets to see Tweedy & Co. at Brooklyn's Warsaw on June 26th, which during the day serves as the Polish National Home. This became obvious with the food sold inside—kielbasas, pirogies and cheese blintzes.

After waiting in line, talking to interesting people and almost not getting into the venue because of unclear camera rules (thank you cafe next door), we were inside the small venue. The opening band, Low, took stage. Their music was alright and I'd probably like at least one or two of their songs, but I wasn't in the mood for it. They loosely reminded me of an extremely more mellow Explosions in the Sky, but with vocals and unnecessarily-long-long songs.

Then, finally, Wilco came on stage.

Opening with the low-key but still beautiful "Sunken Treasure" (But there is no sunken treasure/Rumored to be/Wrapped inside my ribs/In a sea black with ink), Tweedy led the band and the audience through perfectly chosen songs from their expansive discography, with songs from Being There, Mermaid Avenue, Summerteeth, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (of course), A Ghost is Born, and the featured album of the night: Sky Blue Sky.

Sadly, I'm not too crazy about their newest album. While I've listened to the songs and can recognize them if played, I find myself intimately family with only a few, of which they did perform. It was the twangy guitar that led up to the wonderful solos that made both "You Are My Face" (now also featured as a car commercial jingle) and "Side with the Seeds" for me.

That is what makes Wilco for me--the knowing way they handled their instruments so perfectly and intimately.

Wilco finished the first main set with "On and On and On," which was the perfect song to end with. Tweedy, the spotlight right on him and without a guitar, sang so sincerely without any hints of that dangerous sentimental sap that could potentially arise. He held the microphone close to his mouth and sweetly sang, "Please don't cry/This world of words and meanings makes you feel outside/Something that you feel already deep inside/You've denied/Go ahead and cry." I honestly love this song.

Because I've listened to Wilco so often, I anticipated the guitar solos and change in beats. Even with this sense of predictability for my part, they still surprised me with unexpected twists. This was especially so with "Spiders (Kidsmoke)," a song created for live performances, demonstrated beautifully on Kicking Television. With the rhythmic thrumming guitars and drums, Tweedy got the audience to clap along. As the instruments die down, the sound of steady clapping remained. Thinking it was the end of the song, the audience cheered, but, wait. There was a pause. Then with a flourish they started again, guitars and drums roaring through the heart of the song.

Standing in the front (or in this case, near front) is the only way you can truly enjoy concerts. Being just that close to the band makes it so much better and you get to witness all of their exchanges. I saw Tweedy's smirks, Cline's air guitar moves, Tweedy beckoning Stirrat to join their guitar-solo-menage-trois rock out during "Hoodoo Voodoo" (which became a guitar conversation/exchange, with each guitarist putting in their two cents), their sweat soaked hair, just, everything.

Tweedy was great at commentary--talking about Brooklyn and Greenpoint, introducing the macrame owl presiding over the stage, leading a happy birthday singalong to a crew member. He loved how enthusiastically the audience sang along and even stopped singing sometimes, letting the audience take over.

Other highlights: They sang "Jesus, Etc." and "Hummingbird" with some of my favorite lyrics (respectively "Skyscrapers are scraping together" and "His goal in life was to be an echo/...But in the deep chrome canyons of the loudest Manhattans/No one could hear him/Or anything"). Warsaw didn't have a curfew so Wilco performed for as long as they wanted. This resulted in two encores and they didn't take as long as other bands would in between sets.

Closing the night, they unexpectedly sang "Outtamind (Outtasite)" (not to be confused with "Outtasite (Outtamind)"), another favorite song if only because Justin Kirk sang it to me during an interview. The song is pure fun, with a catchy beat and Tweedy's energy.

I kind of wish they played "At Least That's What You Said," "ELT," "California Stars" and (this was a long shot) "Feed of Man," but it's okay because that night was amazing and I know I will see them perform again.

[Actual setlist: "Sunken Treasure," "You Are My Face," "I am Trying to Break Your Heart," "Handshake Drugs," "Pot Kettle Black," "Side with the Seeds," "A Shot in the Arm," "Wishful Thinking," "Impossible Germany," "Sky Blue Sky," "Why Would You Wanna Live," "War on War," "Jesus, Etc." "Theologians," "Walken," "I'm the Man Who Loves You," "Hummingbird," "On and On and On." ENCORE 1: "Either Way," "Ashes of American Flags," "Reservations," "Spiders (Kidsmoke)." ENCORE 2: "Hate it Here," "The Late Greats," "Hoodoo Voodoo," "Outta Mind (Outtasite)."]

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