After a long dry spell, I finally saw Wilco in concert again, on Wednesday night at the Paramount. And, they were AMAZING. I know, you think I’ll say that about any show of theirs because I am such a Wilco fanatic, but that’s not true. Sometimes, they’re just okay. Once, they were terrible. Often, though, they’re great, so I have remained a devoted fan. And, Wednesday’s show goes down in my books as the second-best show of theirs I’ve ever seen. (Best show ever was the first time I saw them, at the Showbox, in 1996.)
My lovely husband indulged me and went downtown early with me so we could wait in line in the rain to ensure a spot close to the stage. We were rewarded with an awesome location, about 20 feet from the stage, directly in front of John Stirratt, the bass player, who stands between Jeff Tweedy and Pat Sansone. For this show, the Paramount removed the main floor seating so you could opt to stand on the main floor (general admission) or sit up in the balcony (reserved seating). I may be getting old, but I’m not old enough yet to prefer sitting through a rock show, so we happily stood. I wore my tallest boots (but not my Halloween platform shoes, thanks to the rain), ready to rub shoulders with tall fans and see over the heads of the shorties. [Quick note: as we were about to leave for the show, Lily saw the Mott the Hoople shirt I was wearing and said, “You’re wearing THAT?! Don’t you have like 50,000 Wilco t-shirts?” Almost, honey, almost.]
If you’re not a Wilco fan, the following may not mean much to you. You may go. If you do like the band, though, here are some of my thoughts about the show.
Right away, we could tell the band was fresh, with lots of energy, and that Jeff Tweedy was in a great mood. He was smiling and maybe even laughing. He praised the venue because it solved the “sitting vs. standing” debate by providing room for both. They’re not burned out on the newer songs yet, it seems, and they even played a couple of old ones in new ways I hadn’t heard before.
The opening was killer. They walked out to the theme music from “The Price is Right” and then started with “Wilco (the song).” That’s the “Wilco will love you, baby” song — the first song on the new record, “Wilco (the album).” Excellent way to start the show. Then, into “A Shot in the Arm,” which I sing to myself whenever I’m getting scary medical tests done that involve sticking needles into my veins. IT HELPS. Really. Third song was the thundering “Bull Black Nova” from the new album. The show could have ended right there and I would have felt like we got our money’s worth. That was how I felt after the first song the very first time I saw them perform, so that’s not too bad for almost 14 years later.
If I had created a song wish list before the concert, it would have included a lot of the songs they played: “Radio Cure,” “Box Full of Letters,” “Handshake Drugs,” and “Bull Black Nova.” And, the thing is, they kept nailing every single one. Nels Cline was his usual manic self on lead guitar, but this time, thanks to our strategic placement in front of John, we didn’t have to watch Nels wail away insanely on the guitar strings. I love hearing it, but it’s a hugely distracting visual onslaught to watch. Glenn Kotche, the drummer, still makes my knees weak. I have never seen a better drummer. The group was just so damn tight. Six guys at the top of their abilities, for sure (except for the beards, what’s with the beards, Pat and Glenn? Yikes!)
Why I am so gaga over Wilco? They showed it on Wednesday night. Incredibly poetic lyrics. Layers upon layers of sound. Beautiful melodies and harmonies sometimes broken up by walls of noise. Humor. Intelligence. Moments of straight-up rock and roll next to moments of soft, sweet lullabies. They don’t follow a formula. They change with every record and every live performance. They remind me to stay tapped into my creative instincts and imagination and not worry about following the rules. Oh, and have some fun at the same time.