Caught Wilco this past Saturday night out in N.J., and as always the band did not disappoint. It was billed as “An Evening With Wilco” and from reports over the past few weeks, that meant a 3 hour performance. Which is exactly what we got. Some highlights and thoughts:
1. I didn’t have a ticket, but drove all the way out to Montclair to meet a buddy and find someone with an extra. The first guy I asked sold me his extra for $40, which I think was less than face value. Score.
2. They opened with a beautiful “Ashes of American Flags” that wasted little time establishing Nels Cline’s presence on guitar.
3. The first hour proceeded somewhat as expected for anyone who‘s seen the band over the past year or so. I missed not hearing “Handshake Drugs”, but “A Shot In The Arm”, “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart”, and "One Wing” were great starters. The new “band intros” during “Wilco (the Song)” were unexpected and pretty funny.
4. The first surprises came with “Summerteeth”, which I kind of missed because it came right after “Bathroom Break”, er, “Deeper Down”, and an early “Misunderstood”. From there “California Stars”, “Impossible Germany”, and “Poor Places” all hit the spot and led beautifully into the....
5. The mid-show acoustic set was something I noticed on setlists recently, and was really pleasantly surprised at how well this segment came off. The whole band moved up to the front of the stage, they had some ambient lights set up, and they played for about 45 minutes in a much quieter, more intimate manner.
6. “Spiders (Kidsmoke)” is normally a warhorse live, but as a stripped down acoustic song it’s really freakin’ pretty. Could be Tweedy's finest lyrics. And that was my first “Not For The Season” (will not call it “Laminated Cat”) since 2002.
7. Lots and lots of Summerteeth songs the other night, and they were really great to hear live. After the acoustic set they played “I’m Always In Love”, “Candy Floss”, and, later, “Can’t Stand It”.
8. From the reaction of the crowd at large, people love “Hate It Here” and “Walken”. I don’t get it at all. For me, after hearing all these great old songs like “Box Full Of Letters”, “Airline To Heaven”, etc., they were complete duds and sucked some energy out of the later portion of the show for me. “I’m The Man Who Loves You” quickly brought it back.
9. The two Big Star covers were really fantastic. It was really cool to hear John and Pat, who must be such huge Chilton fans, sing lead.
10. Lots of energy to close out the show with “Casino Queen”, “Outasite (Outamind)”, and “Hoodoo Voodoo”.
11. Wilco is at a point in their career where a marathon show such as Saturday night’s comes off so well - they’ve learned how to incorporate all the different aspects of what has made them great from throughout their career into one performance. They covered the early, folk rock/bar-band era, their artistic, challenging mid period, and the more “mature”, fan friendly later period. It’s like a Springsteen show, with something for everyone and an incredible range of music played. You need to see them if you never have.