Wilco, Hill Auditorium, Ann Arbor Michigan- 10/10
"Am I high? No. I'm not high. Are you high?" remarked Wilco lead singer and guitarist Jeff Tweedy. "No? You can't wear a tie dye shirt and not be high man. Just kidding." A small moment of joking in what turned out to be an otherwise serious night of beautifully orchestrated rock and roll meshed with waves of distorted guitar loops and Avant-garde noise. Yes, this is not your parents' Wilco anymore.
Having more in common these days with, say, Sonic Youth, than Tweedy's first band the Alternative Country act and Uncle Tupelo, Wilco has, and always will be, Tweedy's band. (All apologies to fans of original and now departed Jay Bennett.) The rest are unfortunately just along for the ride. Drummer Glenn Kotche, new guitarist Nels Cline, new keyboard player Pat Samsone, piano and laptop Mikael Jorgensen, along with original Uncle Tupelo and Wilco bassist John Stirratt, round out the latest Wilco incarnation.Following a brief set by Detroit's emerging Country favorites Blanche, Wilco took the stage to a rousing, near capacity crowd. The Ann Arbor show was the last of their East Coast tour before having a couple weeks off before heading out West. Opening with the increasingly rare one-two punch of "Poor Places" and "Reservations" off the critically acclaimed, modern classic Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. "Poor Places" began with the grace of Tweedy's softly cracked voice guiding the song along before turning it into a sweeping, epic mass of chaos at the drop of Tweedy's arm. Tweedy noodled with his effects pedals, Kotche banged on a piece of sheet metal furiously while Cline abused his guitar chords with an intensity that could make Thurston Moore shake in his Chuck Taylor hightops. When it was all over, Tweedy again led the band into the haunting "Reservations."
Wilco stuck primarily to a set of material comprised off Foxtrot, and the band’s latest release, 2004’s A Ghost Is Born. "At Least That's What You Said," the night's third song, was once again a primarily hushed affair at the beginning until the song's second part launched into a Neil Young and Crazy Horse, foot-stomping guitar rock romp. Head banging was witnessed and accounted for.It's rare for me to go to a concert these days and not have a complaint about any of the songs, or any moment for that matter, but this show busted the trend. Sticking to the night's themes of quiet and chaotic, "I Am Trying To Break Your Heart" saw Jorgensen working the effects on his laptop while Tweedy strummed the careful chords of this modern masterpiece of a song. Highlights were plentiful. The bombast of "A Shot In The Arm" off 1998's Summerteeth. The Kraftwerkian "Spiders (Kidsmoke)," "Muzzle Of Bees," and "Hummingbird," all off "Ghost." The night’s most intriguing song, however, had to be the re-working of Summerteeth’s "Via Chicago." Sans Bennett, one of the co-writers along with Tweedy, at moments sounded like the Sun Ra Arkestra playing alongside Nick Drake, or any other fill-in-the-blank sensitive, singer-songwriter. The song sounded entirely different as Tweedy's sonic re-interpretation made it a shadow of what it used to be. Bennett would've crapped his pants for sure.
Two four song encores proved to be where Wilco shined the best and reaffirmed for many what a great live act Wilco has become. It's easy and apparent to see why the Jam nation has began to embrace the group as their sets change nightly, leaving one with a you'll never know what you're gonna get show. I even spotted a couple hippies here and there, and of course, the obligatory Bonnaroo reference was yelled out a couple times. Seems Wilco is poised to follow in the shoes of Ween and The Flaming Lips as the breakout indie acts from each of the three festivals.
During the encore, Wilco even pulled two classics from their 1996 album Being There, with "Kingpin" and the wonderful, "Misunderstood," giving some die-hards a small taste of the twang.' But for the most part, this night was all about electronic experimentation and rich songcraft.
Following some chatter about voting, which seems de rigueur with most musicians currently touring these days, Tweedy ended the night with the acoustic "Be Not So Fearful." He urged people to "vote with their hearts and to no be afraid of anything," before being escorted off the stage for a few weeks of well-deserved rest. He may not have been high, but he sure did a good job of making the rest of us feel like we were.