Wilco @ The Fillmore in Denver: A fireworks display raining down on me
"Jeff Tweedy is some sort of crazy genius," I found myself thinking as I watched my first Wilco show from front and center, pressed up against the barricade on Saturday night at The Fillmore. I had prepared myself for a really good show, but I was completely blown away by this band. There was the warm and rich display of the alt-country sound I'd expected, but also raw, real, fantastic rock blended with intelligent melodies and retro pop sensibilities. I've listened to them casually before last night, and holy cow now I understand what I've been missing out on. Their catalog is so much better than I had ever imagined, even just the two hour glimpse we got last night. I stand 100% converted.
They opened with a blue and gorgeous "You Are My Face," and then launched right into this, which literally left me standing there with my mouth agape in wordless pleasure by the time it was over:
WILCO: I AM TRYING TO BREAK YOUR HEART
(watch out for the unavoidable loud fuzzy spots in the audio)
I took several videos from my prime real estate location (Nels' relentless pogoing in a snippet of "Shot in The Arm" and the engagingly playful sound of "Hummingbird") and drank in the set that ran a full two hours.
Tweedy has an ineffable charisma, and makes something inside of me wince with recognition when he chisels out his best icy aching lyrics. I wasn't expecting the power and range of his voice. He was letting it fly, with a soulful edge that to be completely honest brought to mind something like Black Crowes on a couple of occasions, which surprised me. I love this man.
I resolutely held my place on the railing so I had a clear view between the monitors of drummer Glenn Kotche, who is insanely good on drums -- inventive and exacting, possessing a true joy in his playing. He was absolutely drenched in sweat by the third song (maybe also because it was twelve million degrees in the venue).
Nels Cline is face-meltingly amazing on the guitar -- that man needs to be added to my pantheon of best guitar players. He plays with a class and a dignity of some middle-aged British duke (he had jaunty red pants on) but then absolutely shreds it. Check this video of him and Tweedy doing the dueling guitars on "I'm The Man Who Loves You." The band was a full six people strong, lush and potent and shattering. It was a sheer delight to behold.
For me the most visceral song of the night was "Via Chicago" -- it kicked me in the gut. It starts out with the casually sung lyrics, "I dreamed about killing you again last night, and it felt alright to me." What a way to catch your attention, with those stabbing lyrics that aren't afraid to speak out loud your deepest and ugliest thoughts. But the melody is fairly typical, a rustic and warm ballad-type. I'd like it well enough the way you think it's going to go.
But about hafway through the live performance, the back end of it completely falls out, things fall apart. The drums go all dischordant, the backing melody splinters off, I had bright lights shining directly in my eyes -- except Tweedy and bassist John Stirratt kept on with the regular melody, the regular harmonies as if nothing was happening. I thought something went wrong, I was confused - did the post-show music sound system come on or something?
Then the overpowering craziness stopped and the song continued. I realized it was intentional, and it truthfully made a weird hot burning come to my chest just because of the power of a song to do that to me. It's brilliant -- Tweedy works out (what I understand as) his feelings about "coming home" through these bursts within the song of crazy, deceptive, controlled anarchy. It was so unexpected, and therein lay the power and the genius.
Some artists do stuff like that all the time to shock you - or their world is so chaotic that it is a part of every song, that experimentalism, that avant garde chaos. But precisely since I would never have expected to have that happen, the performance of the song becomes a wonderful two-faced illustration of deception and conflicting feelings through singing one thing and half the band playing a complete other. He stands there, being the troubadour, oblivious in his deception.
* * * * * *
I told several friends today about the show with the hushed and breathless wonder usually reserved for religious pilgrimages or transcendental journeys. Everyone kind of shrugged and was like, "Yeah, Wilco's cool." I pressed them, "Yes, but have you ever seen them live?" None of them had, which explains why they could be so casual about it. If any of them had seen Wilco like I saw them last night, they'd be radiantly glowing too. The people standing on either side of me on the barricade were from Iowa and California, respectively, and had followed Tweedy like he was their prophet. I was kind of chuckling at them at the beginning of my night ("wilco has crazy fans!" I texted a friend). But by the time the band ripped out a thirteen minute version of Spiders (Kidsmoke), I was ready to pack up and follow them too.
Full setlist, Wilco in Denver 9/1/07
You Are My Face
I Am Trying To Break Your Heart
Pot Kettle Black
A Shot in the Arm
War on War
Side With The Seeds
Shake It Off
Too Far Apart
I'm The Man Who Loves You
On and On and On
How To Fight Loneliness
Hate It Here
Heavy Metal Drummer
I'm Always in Love
Remaining Wilco tour dates here
All my photos from last night here