Friday, October 12, 2007

Concert review - Wilco and Andrew Bird Oct. 11, 2007

I'm still a bit groggy from last night's Wilco show. I saw them a few years ago in Red Rocks when The Roots opened for them. This time, it was Andrew Bird. And unlike the Sokol show earlier this year - it was just Andrew performing - no backing band. Bird was his usual stellar self - my only complaint was the brevity of his set. But thankfully, a good number of the audience knew who he was and what a treat it was that he was opening.

Wilco's performance was like their music catalog: some of it threatens to derail into arty pretensiousness while some of it threatens to careen into jam-heavy "dad rock" as Pitchfork summed up Wilco's last album. But heard in a live setting - everything makes sense. The alienating white noise of A Ghost is Born actually sounds warm and inviting in a live setting. And listening to Sky Blue Sky, you can tell this was an album that seemed to be born from the road and not in the studio. The songs off of Sky Blue Sky seemed as familiar and worn to the band as the tracks off of Being There.

Holding everything together was Jeff Tweedy. Wearing a cowboy hat and some nice, grizzled facial hair, he looked like Eddie Vedder's wiser older brother from my Orchestra 3 seats. His sardonic humor kept a few idiots in the audience in check. "Sometimes you need to stand up, sometimes you need to sit and take it all in" he quipped, noticing the abrupt moment when most of the audience on the main floor decided to sit down during one of their slower numbers. There were a few times when Wilco went full on country, making me wonder if the band genuinely loves playing their songs with a country edge, or if it was their way of wryly mocking some of the audience's hooting and hollering.

The entire band was damn-near flawless, but guitarist Nels Cline and drummer Glenn Kotche were in spectacular form Thursday night. Kotche didn't miss a single beat as he was flashing a grin throughout most of their set. As for Cline - his fretwork could be vicious (see "A Shot in the Arm," "I Got You (At the End of the Century)," the encore of "Spiders") or delicate ("Sky Blue Sky," "Impossible Germany").

The encores were a heavy smattering of Being There favorites such as "I Got You (At the End of the Century)," "Red-Eyed and Blue" and the final song "Outtasite (Outta Mind)." My friend, who has never seen Wilco play live before, said "I was wondering why they went all Van Morrisson at the second half of the set, but at the end, it made perfect sense."

The thing that stuck with me was how stellar Wilco's songs are when you look at their setlist. In two hours, the audience heard "Red-Eyed and Blue," "Handshake Drugs," "Hate it Here," "I am Trying to Break Your Heart," "Heavy Metal Drummer," "Impossible Germany," "Via Chicago" and "The Late Greats" to name a few. And that is without such favorites as "At Least That's What You Said," "Hell is Chrome," "Reservations" and "Misunderstood." Any songwriter would be lucky to have an output half as productive as Tweedy.

Different topic - Radiohead's In Rainbows
I have to say that I think it's probably their best work since Kid A. While I liked Hail to the Thief, I thought it was sort of a forced effort to return to their guitar heavy sound of The Bends. I think "House of Cards" may be one of the most beautiful songs the band has ever recorded. And while OK Computer will probably be this band's high water mark, it would be a shame if fans were to judge the band on just these two albums. Can you imagine trying to judge Dylan on two of his albums, or the Beatles on just two of their albums? Album of the year? I think LCD Soundsystem's Sound of Silver still is the frontrunner, but like Sky Blue Sky, In Rainbows will find a place in your headphones if you give it some time and if you judge the album on its own merit.

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