...we've got the means to make amends. I am lost, I'm no guide, but I'm by your side. (Pearl Jam, Leash)

Sunday, September 02, 2007

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:

(watch out for the unavoidable loud fuzzy spots in the audio)

[direct link]

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
Handshake Drugs
A Shot in the Arm
Radio Cure
War on War
Side With The Seeds
Shake It Off
Too Far Apart
Jesus, etc.
I'm The Man Who Loves You
On and On and On
Impossible Germany
How To Fight Loneliness
Spiders (Kidsmoke)
Via Chicago
Hate It Here
Heavy Metal Drummer
I'm Always in Love
Outtamind (Outtasite)

Remaining Wilco tour dates here
All my photos from last night here

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At September 02, 2007 11:17 PM, Blogger Terri G said...

I was standing right next to you at one point...

...quite the honor...quite the show...

Seven strong? I missed someone. Aaack. Thank you for your amazing rendition of a fantastic experience!

At September 03, 2007 1:49 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm Always In Love!

I would have killed to have heard that when I saw them in April. Glad the show blew you away!

At September 03, 2007 7:13 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Radio Cure, How to Fight Loneliness, and I'm Always In Love at your first Wilco show? That's nothing short of incredible. They've barely played How to Fight Loneliness in the last few years, and it's one of my favorites.

I completely agree that Nels Cline is face-meltingly amazing. He's the first musician to really blow me away in a long time. If you're at all interested in experimental jazz, I encourage you to check out his jazz trio the Nels Cline Singers. No singing, just really amazing jazz-rock fusion. Their newest album Draw Breath came out in June. Instrumentals is also excellent.

At September 03, 2007 8:43 AM, Blogger Yon said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At September 03, 2007 9:06 AM, Blogger heather said...

Terri -

Ooh, math. Six. You are right, I just re-counted in my head. They impaired my ability to count straight even!


You should have said hello! I would have enjoyed that.

At September 03, 2007 10:06 AM, Blogger Yon said...

I'm glad you got into it, discovering yourself again in new music is what it's all about. I sent you an email about a wilco/tweedy mix.

Wilco (and all of their side-projects) are in such a great space now. Everything is coming together for them musically. Jeff quipped (at the Sunday show) they would rerelease 'AM' (Wilco's first disc) with the current line up, and everyone would snatch it up like hot cakes. He's right, ins pite of all of their albums being great in their as is.

The band that has evolved since Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is a bizarre mixture of youthful exuberance, old guard, and musical genius... often in the sam person. The latest line-up brings so much to the table. Glen's effusive contentedness has grounded Tweedy (and the band) and Glen's playing... wow, Mikael's keyboard and mixing helped create this sound, Nils' how-can-you-play-so-fast, so-cleanly, so-freely, so-effortlessly, with-out-even-looking guitar, Pat's playfulness and go-to ability, these have all really grown the band in a wonderful way.

The older tunes breathed with new life, the new songs just so strong and emotive, and Jeff and John still going strong. It's a great time to be a fan, and to see their shows.

At September 03, 2007 10:52 AM, Blogger Sally Jo Who said...

I was the same way just a few months ago.. I liked them, had a couple of Wilco albums, but I wasn't a huge fan. Didn't really see what the big deal about them was. Until last June.. a friend took me to see them (in Charlotte, NC) as an early birthday present. BEST BIRTHDAY PRESENT EVER! :) And now I'm going to go see them again in Charlottesville, VA next month! I'm excited! :D

One of the best feelings in the world to me is discovering a band or artist, even though they've been around for years.. congratulations, judging the setlist, it must've been an awesome show, what a way to discover Wilco! :)

By the way, thank you for posting that Jeff Tweedy living room concert, it's one of the best things I've heard in a long time. :)

At September 03, 2007 4:06 PM, Blogger Brian said...

Awesome setlist. I've seen them 3 times over the last 10 years and the way they've evolved is nothing short of phenomenal.

I'm not seeing them this time around. I'm seeing so many shows this month that I decided to go with groups I haven't seen before like Arcade Fire, The National, Hold Steady...now your review is making me think twice about that.

Oh, and last time I saw them they closed with Don't Fear The Reaper. Plenty of cowbell!

At September 03, 2007 5:23 PM, Blogger Jittery White Guy said...

Glad you finally got to experience a Wilco show. Over the past decade and a half, there are only two bands I've felt a physical need to see each and every opportunity I get -- Wilco and Yo La Tengo. (And if you haven't yet seen YLT live, run a YouTube search... though seeing them on video doesn't quite do them justice.)

As seems to be the case with you as well, I'd always "liked" Wilco's albums, but never really fell in love with the band until I saw them live. And with each album, I find myself a bit underwhelmed until I see them play the tunes live.

That said, I have to confess I haven't been as big a fan of the shows since the Tweedy/Bennett split -- the two of them had an onstage chemistry that hasn't quite been replicated. Plus I miss the days when they'd play a half dozen covers during the show. Still, few bands around spin the magic like Tweedy and the boys.

At September 03, 2007 7:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with Pop Kulcher about Yo La Tengo - they're one of the few other popular bands capable of transcendence in their live shows. Wilco certainly is, but I only wish they would allow more room for improvisation. Then again, that's not really the aesthetic they're going for. Wilco plays more in the tradition of The Band, who believed in strong material being played with tight, stellar musicianship - exploration, but only within the confines of the song. I could just never see myself going on tour with Wilco, because it's missing the spontaneity, unpredictableness and freedom once found in, say, a nineties Phish show.

That said, I still know how you felt last night. Wilco's such a solid, exciting band to watch, and the plethora of great material doesn't hurt. My three best concert experiences with them were: in Asheville in a nice theater right before the 2004 election, with Tweedy, politically, putting in his two-cents and playing accordingly --- early '05 in South Florida when he asked people in the front row if they were rich. "Why?" "Because you paid thirty bucks to sit in the front row and talk to each other" ---- and spring '05 in Boston, when being the first band to play in a new arena, they played a classic, roaring Arena-Rock show. That night put a lot of fists in the air.

At September 03, 2007 8:05 PM, Blogger Bruce said...

I expect to see nothing but a board mix quality sets of mp3's up by tomorrow...Come on! Sounds like a great nite....Spiders is like their Southern Man....it can go on forever...

At September 03, 2007 11:00 PM, Blogger Matt said...

Heather, this is a wonderful post. I'm so happy to see you fully come over to our side! :) Almost all of your observations here were also made by me as I started listening to them more. That was a really fun read and thank you for sharing it.

You should check out Summer Teeth. It's pop perfection. You'd probably like it more than the experimental YHF and Ghost. I love them all, though. I've even warmed up to Sky Blue Sky. :)

At September 04, 2007 7:50 AM, Blogger bpfastball said...

It's been ten years now since my first live Wilco moment, at the Fillmore here in San Francisco, and reading your post this morning makes it feel like just last night.

They opened with 'Misunderstood' off BEING THERE, and as the song concluded, stunned as to what I just witnessed, I turned to my friend who looked me square in the eye while the crowd went nuts and mouthed "Wow".

They were mind blowing that night, though virtually a completely different band, and a decade later continue to amaze.

Welcome to the party.

At September 04, 2007 10:25 AM, Blogger Joe Whaley said...

i'm a big pearl jam fan, and not taking anything away from them, but after seeing wilco live, i was speechless. a wilco concert should be a handbook on how a band puts on a show. i don't know how to explain it.. the band is so tight, yet it feels loose.. larger than life, yet so intimate. they are the real deal.

At September 04, 2007 12:12 PM, Blogger Ted said...

I was fortunate enough to go to both shows in Denver this weekend - and I gotta say this band is at the peak form. Sunday's show was better than Saturday's, IMO, despite Saturday having some rarities in the list.

Tweedy and company were on fire and having ALOT of fun both nights.

The joke Tweedy told on Sunday was hilarious, "That song was from an album named A.M. which you guys didn't like very much. But it is a good album. I'll tell you what, we're going to re-record that album and release it. It'll be called B.M. and you will all eat it up!"

What a crafty way to say 'if you don't like it, eat shit!'

At September 04, 2007 12:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the great recap. I just discovered Jeff Tweedy last year when he was on Austin City Limits, singing "At Least That's What You Said." It was a replay of a 2004 performance, and I think the band might have been different at that time. The new Wilco CD is my current favorite; each member of the band shines on it. I really love the bass line under the melody in "On and On and On." I'd love to see a concert, but alas -- none in New York this time.

At September 04, 2007 4:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am SUCH a Wilco convert after that show. It was so perfect.

They totally connect with people on a level I've never seen...they don't charge ripoff prices for merchandise...they had really nice people from Oxfam at an info table there...everyone was so happy...what is not to like about these guys? Whay are they not huge-er?

At September 04, 2007 6:59 PM, Blogger Little Dynamite said...

great review...sounded like an awesome night...i'm still waiting to finally see them live!

At September 05, 2007 7:27 PM, Blogger CP said...

ahh, the exuberance of a wilco virgin. welcome.

now it's on to the DVD, the books, the side projects...welcome...

i am fairly obsessed with this band and it is good to see that other people get it. i could write a book...

oh, and "pot kettle black"!? holy shit you are lucky. i've seen wilco 4 times and still no "pot kettle black"...

At September 05, 2007 10:05 PM, Blogger tk said...

I've seen Wilco 4 times over the past 5 years or so...This summer's show in Boston was tremendous, this band with this lineup and this material is at the top of their game. Nothing better out there, I don't think, and there's lots of people I love out there making amazing music. Wilco is tops, at least right now. Tweedy, there's nobody like him, nobody writing songs like these....

At September 06, 2007 7:40 PM, Blogger ajs said...

Heather it's up on etree:


-- ajs (coffee creek)

At September 07, 2007 5:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

After that write up I need a recording of that show real bad...for us luddites... how do you convert .flac to .mp3?? or better yet...can someone convert it and post it in .mp3?? Pleasepleaseplease???

At September 07, 2007 1:15 PM, Blogger ajs said...

here's how a linux guy does it...can be done on windows using cygwin also, lots
of software to install if you don't have
it already.

# flacmp3 - convert a flac file and its tag data to mp3/id3 format
# submitted into the public domain
# by Alan J.Stein on 9/7/2007
while [ "$1" ]
flac -c -d "$1" |
lame -h -m s -b 192 \
--tt "$(metaflac --show-tag=TITLE "$1" |
sed 's/^TITLE=\(.*\)/\1/')" \
--ta "$(metaflac --show-tag=ARTIST "$1" |
sed 's/^ARTIST=\(.*\)/\1/')" \
--tl "$(metaflac --show-tag=ALBUM "$1" |
sed 's/^ALBUM=\(.*\)/\1/')" \
--ty "$(metaflac --show-tag=DATE "$1" |
sed 's/^DATE=\(.*\)/\1/')" \
--tn "$(metaflac --show-tag=TRACKNUMBER "$1" |
sed 's/^TRACKNUMBER=\(.*\)/\1/')" \
--tg "$(metaflac --show-tag=GENRE "$1" |
sed 's/^GENRE=\(.*\)/\1/')" \
- "$(basename "$1" .flac).mp3"

At October 01, 2007 1:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fantastic review - you took the words right out of my mouth! I saw Wilco at the Telluride Bluegrass festival in 2005 and have been a fan for a few years, but until recently Summerteeth was all I had and I only partially got it. At the Fillmore show (where I was also near the front, but on stage left) I said to my friends, "this is the best band in the United States" -- the show blew me away and now I own 5 Wilco CDs and have had trouble listening to anything else!

At April 14, 2008 9:55 AM, Blogger Kelli Hanley said...

I have been a Wilco fan since the break up of Uncle Tupelo. I have seen them many many times and that show was by far one of the best I have ever seen!!! I have been trying to track down a recording of the show. Does anyone have any suggestions of how I might get my hands on one? Thanks


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