Thursday, June 9, 2016

FTT Off-Topic: Wilco with Richard Thompson

I had the great and good fortune of going to this show last weekend, and honestly... one of the five best shows I've ever seen. Judging from the reactions on social media from the faithful, I saw one of their best gigs on the tour. Here's the set list.

01 - More...
02 - Random Name Generator
03 - The Joke Explained
04 - I Am Trying to Break Your Heart
05 - Art of Almost
06 - Pickled Ginger
07 - Hummingbird
08 - Handshake Drugs
09 - Where Do I Begin
10 - Cold Slope
11 - King of You
12 - Via Chicago
13 - Laminated Cat (aka Not For The Season)
14 - Company In My Back
15 - Box Full of Letters
16 - Heavy Metal Drummer
17 - I'm the Man Who Loves You
18 - Dawned On Me
19 - Impossible Germany
20 - The Late Greats
21 - California Stars
22 - Red-Eyed and Blue
23 - I Got You (At The End Of The Century) [Alternative Version]
24 - Outtasite (Outta Mind)
25 - Spiders (Kidsmoke)
26 - I'm A Wheel
27 - Misunderstood
28 - Give Back The Key To My Heart [Doug Sahm cover]
29 - War On War
30 - I'm Always In Love
31 - Jesus, Etc.
32 - A Shot in the Arm

A few notes... Note the number of songs played, 32 in a 2.5 hour set that didn't have anything meaningful in the way of pauses or dead time. The sheer efficiency that this band brings to the fore, especially when you consider most of these songs lead to extended jams and ambient noise work, is pretty amazing. It's not just the band; the roadies are absolutely aces, too. Very little stage patter or silliness. When you've got a past catalog like these guys, you want to get to a lot of it, and they do.

"Random Name Generator" is the "hit" off the new album, and it holds up better than you might expect of such things. Stuck with me longer than you'd generally expect.

I can't get enough of "I Am Trying To Break Your Heart." My good friend who is more into their accessible stuff, and was more into the opener (the fantastic Richard Thompson, who guested on guitar on "California Stars" later), started to drift here, but was brought back in later. And now wants to give "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" another try.

"Handshake Drugs" is, IMO, the modern answer to Lou Reed's "I'm Waiting For My Man". I don't have much in the way of finer praise, really.

Jeff Tweedy, the band's fantastic frontman, notes that he always points out that "Box Full Of Letters" is from their first album, and that he always points this out. It still holds up, and points to the fact that the band could have just been an accessible hit machine for their entire run, and no one would have blamed them. I'm glad they didn't take that route, because, well, we already have the Jayhawks, and this song sounds more like them now than Wilco.

"Heavy Metal Drummer" is the song for people who aren't really into Wilco. It's fine anyway.

I think if I were involved with anyone who thought "I'm The Man Who Loves You" was a good romantic gesture, I'd break off the relationship. Which means it's totally great.

Nels Cline is one of the best guitarists alive, and "Impossible Germany" is probably his showcase piece. You wouldn't think that you'd see virtuous shredding in a mid-tempo ambient rock band, but, well, here it is. Just an absurd amount of speed, power and emotion, and utterly captivating. If all guitar solos were like this, no one would mind guitar solos.

"Outtasite" is a good enough way to end a set, but I'd have preferred "Walkin'" -- probably the best song in their catalog that wasn't played tonight -- or "Monday", which is also a beast of a rave-up. In the relatively short electric encore, "Spiders (Kidsmoke)" might have been my second favorite thing of the night (behind only "...Heart"), and "I'm A Wheel" is always fun.

At this point in the night, I was more than satisfied, and the roadies started to break down the set... but mostly to make drummer Glenn Kotche, who might be the best hitter in the game right now and just fascinating to watch on any number of levels, comfortable in front of his usual riser. Then the band played another half dozen songs on acoustics, with no drop in energy or proficiency. With Cline on pedal steel, they were even able to generate more than their fare share of weird noise-craft, which just seems like witchcraft, honestly.

Best song of the long encore to me is "Misunderstood", which  is one of those moments where Tweedy is just better at pleasing a crowd, and able to avoid mean attempts at humor. In the same position, I'm sure I'd have ended the night with "I'd like to thank you all / for nothing at all" and dropped the mic. Closing with "Shot In The Arm", with the crowd seemingly ready to go with a singalong moment that's just a little disturbing ("Something in my veins / Bloodier than blood"). But that's just what Wilco does.

Anyway, in case you've somehow missed it... great band, great show, great opener. Run, don't walk, and don't dwell on the overwhelming whiteness of the crowd. The band's great anyway.

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