The Scene: While Saturday was sold out by the time Wilco came on, Sunday was a much more mellow crowd. The hipster hippies were out in force this weekend, with all of the plaid and tight t-shirts that comes with that crowd. It was your typical Wilco crowd, primarily 25 – 35 and a good solid mix of girls and guys. There were a few grey hairs in attendance who were really digging the tunes from the tables along the right side of the floor and overall it was a very respectful crowd.
The Opener: Richard Swift. I had heard good things about Richard Swift before walking into the Fillmore on Saturday night. I however, was not impressed by the 2 songs I heard on Saturday and the 3 I heard on Sunday night. Swift’s voice is reminiscent of Bob Dylan and if you’ve ever seen Dylan live in recent memory you will understand that this is not a good thing. I don’t know if the sound was off or it was simply Swift’s performance but it was difficult to see through the harshness of his vocals to the lyrics and melodies that made up his songs. While I did catch an occasional couplet that intrigued me there isn’t much I can say about Swift’s performance. It was telling that when he was invited up on stage Sunday night during Wilco’s encore he didn’t sing a note.
Wilco: The ads on KBCO all summer have touted Wilco as “The world’s best live band,” and while I took issue with that every time I heard it, I have to admit now that they weren’t completely off-base. There were very few flaws with both performances this past weekend.
One of the few things I can point to is the repetition of 11 songs over the two nights. Why is it that band with a catalogue as extensive as Wilco’s can’t play two nights at the same venue without repeating more than a song or two? Afterall, they were selling two night tickets and were very aware that the audience was going to be very similar both nights. Let’s do something to reward the fans who came out both nights.
That being said I do understand that Wilco is a VERY rehearsed band and that is the only way they can achieve the tightness that they have managed on recent tours. 36 different songs is a decent number to have in rotation and I was consistently blown away by how well they played together as a band.
The other thing that blew me away was their unique approach to lighting the stage. Rather than the typical approach of lighting everything from a hanging rig above the stage they brought several standing light stands with old style light cans mounted on them that shined through red film. They also employed the theater technique of using footlights to light the band from below with lights mounted at the front edge of the stage. It is the same technique that Martin Scorsese used to get the great lighting effets that are seen in the concert film, The Last Waltz. It was great to see a band finally using this time tested technique to enhance their performance.
Even with the lights and the exceptional tightness of the band, I think that the moment that summed up my Wilco experience took place during Sunday evening’s first encore. Tweedy and company had just run through “California Stars” with Richard Swift and his band mate and then band broke into “Poor Places” from Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. As they neared the end of the song they elongated one of their trademark noise jams and deftly used just the right amount of disonnance to keep us all fixated on their every move until it seemed to segue right into the cryptically romantic “Reservations.” After reviewing some setlists from the past several years it turns out to be a common song pairing and as many are probably aware “Reservations” follows “Poor Places” on the original album.
Regardless of whether it is common for the band to pair these songs it still resonated with me as exactly what Wilco is all about. A friend of mine said that they are part Rush and part Willie Nelson and I think there is a lot of truth to that. They are able to play country songs drenched in heartache and soul while still morphing into a true progressive rock-n-roll band almost at will.
This metamorphasis that they manage so effortlessly on stage isn’t something that they capture as well on their captivating albums. As a studio band Wilco is at the forefront of the Alt-Country movement in the US right now, and as a live band they are setting the bar for touring acts all over the world. It is a true pleasure to watch and I am already looking foward to seeing them again.
Stage Presence: B+
Set/Light Show: A