Tuesday, February 26, 2008
Wilco @ The Tower Theatre 2/23/08
1. Sunken Treasure
2. Remember the Mountain Bed
3. Airline To Heaven
4. Hesitating Beauty
5. Muzzle of Bees
6. You Are My Face
7. Side with the Seeds
8. A Shot in the Arm
9. She's a Jar
11. Handshake Drugs
12. At Least That's What You Said
13. Pot Kettle Black
15. Via Chicago
16. Impossible Germany
17. Jesus, etc.
19. I'm the Man Who Loves You
21. On And On And On
22. Hate It Here
23. Red Eyed and Blue >
24. I Got You (at the End of the Century)
25. Hoodoo Voodoo
Song breakdown by album:
A.M. - 0
Being There - 3
Mermaid Avenue - 2
Summerteeth - 4
Mermaid Avenue II - 2
Yankee Hotel Foxtrot - 4
A Ghost Is Born - 4
Sky Blue Sky - 6
Jeff Tweedy is and always was the brains and heart of the band, but Jay Bennett was its nicotine and beer-soaked guts. When they were a quartet or quintet with Bennett, they had more of a swagger about them. Nels Cline is a great guitar player in his own right, but he comes from more of a schooled yet improvisational jazz/blues background, whereas Bennett came from more of a sloppy rock background. To use another analogy, Bennett was more like Bob Stinson (albeit with a lot more contribution to the song development and production) and Cline is more like Slim Dunlap – a technically better guitar player and important to the sound of the band, but without a strong enough personality to be anything more than just a guitar player. Whereas Bennett seemed to want to be an equal of Tweedy, and that's probably the main reason why he's no longer in the band. I think Bennett's contribution is missed more during the writing and recording of the albums, whereas Cline and the other band members added in recent years - keyboardist Mikhael Jorgenson, guitarist/keyboardist - Pat Sansone, and drummer Glen Kotche from way back in 2001, seem to have made them a better live band. Perhaps, looking back maybe those personnel moves helped elevate the band to the next level that Tweedy was trying to take them to.
A few times I found myself feeling the same way about Wilco fans that I started feeling about Black Crowes fans about 9-10 years ago: too many fans of Jam bands at the show. I blame it on the breakup of Phish and the death of Jerry Garcia. Now, the fans of interesting bands who "stretch things out" a little have nowhere else to go. Tweedy made light of this at a solo gig at the TLA back in 2001, when fans in the crowd kept yelling out for him to cover the Dead's "Ripple." So he needled the people about whether being a Deadhead was about the music or was it really about the drugs. So because they vary their setlists and jam a little, just like Pearl Jam and the Black Crowes - 2 other bands of similar philosophies (albeit very different musical sounds and influences), now the gigs are overrun with fans who just follow the band around from city to city for weeks at a time. That's another pet peeve of mine - tickets to, say, the Philly gig or the Chicago gigs became so scarce partly because fans from all over the country are coming in for the shows. And the more shows fans see, the more they start taking every gig for granted and not treating any particular show as that big of a deal.
So in a Wilco audience, you'll see an 18-55 age range, yuppies and ex-Deadheads, college kids and grandparents, punk rock fans and country music fans, people who only listen to WXPN if anything, and people who listen to WMMR and just saw the Foo Fighters recently (as a few fans yelled out during the show). It's just a wide swath of music fans. It's one of those things where you have a bunch of different people from different backgrounds and musical tastes, but somehow, some way, Wilco unites them all since they are among all of the attendees' top 10 favorite bands.
John Doe, formerly of X, opened. His solo album has gotten good reviews and I felt kind of bad that he was playing in front of a theatre that was only about 10% full, with most of those people talking during his performance.
Wilco went on around 9pm sharp and played until about 11:05pm. I haven't seen them live since '05 in Philly. I thought I had floor seats in the back, but it turned out we were in the Lodge section upstairs. I'm just not a huge fan of the sitting down in a theatre or stadium to see a rock band, especially in upper tiers. So that was kind of an adjustment.
I was really wowed by the musicianship and all the layers of stuff going on. You can kind of hear it on the record, but until you see it live with the 6 of them, it's actually pretty awe-inspiring. It was fun watching the 6 of them hitting on all cylinders on a lot of the extended jams. On some songs there are 2 keyboard players and on others there are 3 guitar players, as Sansone goes back and forth depending on the song. Glen Kotche is an amazing drummer and Nels Cline really showed me something during the handful of long guitar solos. He was recently named one of the Top 20 New Guitar Gods by Rolling Stone.
Not much banter as they just kind of played the songs. The few highlights were Tweedy saying it was great to be back in Philly after such a long time since they played here last. And he noted it was the first time they played here under a roof in a long time (Oct '02 to be exact at the Electric Factory). Their last few gigs here have been in the summer at Festival Pier at Penn's Landing.
With the band playing in a theatre with seats for the first time in Philly ever, Tweedy made a note of the sit or stand yo-yo going on. "It's going to be a lot of standing up and sitting down. Are you Catholic? It'll be just like church."
It was Philadelphia's first time to hear firsthand songs from Wilco's most recent release, Sky Blue Sky, which came out in May and lost Best Rock Album at the Grammy Awards earlier this month to the Foo Fighters.
And it was hard to understand because the mic was a little muffled when he was talking, but he started talking about the Grammys, where they lost out to the Foo Fighters for Best Alternative Music Album. And he jokingly ripped the Foo Fighters, calling them the "Poo Fighters." He called them Neanderthals or something and then said he was just kidding. I guess I'll have to wait for the bootleg to hear exactly what he said. Wilco allows taping so there were no cavity searches going into a venue for a change.
All that being said, I'd only rate it a 7-8 on a scale of 10 for a few reasons:
First, the setlist in general is always a touchy issue with me. Call me an old curmudgeon, but considering they just played the whole catalog last week, I thought we'd get a few more songs off A.M. and Being There. They still could have played the same kind of show and just tweaked things a little. I knew they were going to play at least 6 songs from the new album, which they did and they sounded great. And I thought they did a great job substituting "Nothingsever...." for "I'm Always in Love", and "Pot Kettle Black" in place of "War on War", from Summerteeth and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, respectively. The 2 songs they swapped out they seemed to have played at almost every gig the last 5+ years. And "Hesitating Beauty" was a nice choice from Mermaid Avenue. That's one they don't play that often these days.
But I seriously think I've heard "I'm the Man Who Loves You" at every show I've seen with Tweedy solo or the band since 2000. And pretty much on every bootleg I have obtained since then too. Ditto for "Red Eyed and Blue > I Got You"....played at every show I've seen since 1997 and "A Shot in the Arm" and "She's a Jar" since 1999. And "Sunken Treasure" also seems to get played at ever show I have seen. And I don't think it's a good choice for an opener. It seems to me to be a good song to open an encore with to slow things down after a raucous end to the regular set. I love the song, but it's not a good crowd-pleaser to open a show with. And then that was compounded with following it up with "Remember the Mountain Bed", another great song, but just too slow and mellow to open a show with back to back.
I love all of those songs, but given what everyone knows they just did in Chicago, I thought it would have been nice if they had thrown a "Box Full of Letters" (which they haven't played in Philly since 1997), "I Must Be High", "Monday" or "ELT" or something along those lines into the set at those points. Those other songs in the set I've just heard them do so often that it's old hat. Maybe I've just been out of the loop on what they've been playing lately and these songs are just making it back into the live sets after disappearing for awhile. And I'm also not a big fan of "Hoodoo Voodoo" and really don't see the point of playing "On and On and On", especially as a set closer. Oh well. I guess I'd like to see them throw a bone to the fans who were with them before 1999 and still enjoy those older songs.
I was on the fence about going to this show, because it seems most of the tickets went to ticket agents/scalpers and not fans, as it sold out in less than a minute after going on sale. I wish they would have asked for a show of hands at the venue to see who actually was able to pay list price to see this show. My guess is 25% or less of all attendees. But I bucked up and paid $90 per ticket (for $30 tickets), partly because I thought I'd hear some old songs and rarities that they haven't played in awhile, given the fact that they were rehearsing and playing everything in the catalog the week before.
My other complaint was that Jeff Tweedy did say early on that they had a "long program" prepared for everyone since they hadn't played Philly in a while. Meanwhile, they ended up playing just the standard 2-hour set that they always play. Jeff's solo gig here was about that long too, and that's with him singing every word and playing every note himself. When he came out for the encore at about 1:45 into the set, he said something like, "Well, we have to get out of here in a few minutes, so we're going to have to cut this short" or words to that effect. Well, if you know the curfew for the venue is 11pm and want to play for 2:15 or 2:30, then go on earlier. Move up the start time to 7:30 rather than 8 or something.
At this point, given the probability of older, rarer songs popping up in Tweedy solo gigs, rather than with the full band, I'd almost rather see a solo gig instead. More funny crowd banter, willingness to take requests, chance of hearing the older Uncle Tupelo songs, etc.
I guess those are minor complaints in the grand scheme of things. It was still a very good show. But it would have been a great show in my eyes if those things were tweaked a little bit. I think I've seen the band 8 times now in the last 10 years. And while almost every show has been good to very good, I think I've only seen them once where I felt it was a great show - where they sounded great, played a really long time, played most of what I wanted to hear, and surprised me with several song selections. And that was at the Trocadero in 1999. It seems like every other show I'm at I get a few those qualities, but not all of them.
Oh well, like I said overall it was a good show. I guess I'm picking nits. Considering they mix up the setlist quite a bit night to night, are still producing good to great studio albums, and insist on doing things on their own terms, they really are sort of one of the elite rock acts in this post mid 90's alt/rock era. In this era where there isn't an opportunity for a band to become as big as U2 or Nirvana in a very fragmented, fickle rock music world, just about every realistic band is probably hoping that some day they are able to reach Wilco's status. And that includes a devoted fan base and the ability to maintain integrity and do things on your own terms and still sellout 3,000-seat theaters in just about every region of the country, in spite of little or no airplay on commercial rock media and very little promotion. Not too many acts in the last decade have released great albums and also remained profitable to themselves and their record labels. Wilco is one of them.
And on a programming note they will be the musical guests on Saturday Night Live this week (Saturday 3/1).