Wednesday, August 4th, 2004
A Kiss Of Kidsmoke
I’m not really one given to hyperbole, so you’ll appreciate that I mean it when I say Wilco is the best fucking band on the planet. And that that was the best show I have ever seen. Swear. To. God. I don’t even know where to begin. Okay, we’ll start with pre-show. I had intended to get in line right early, like before 7pm for 8pm doors. Unfortunately, the worst restaurant service in the world (it was a night for all-time records) kept me from getting to the Mod Club until about 20 after 7. There wasn’t a huge lineup ahead of us by that point but enough that hopes of getting right up front were dashed – I spent the night about three rows back. Not the best, but a good enough view.
Opener Jim White took the stage promptly at 9:15 with his five-piece band. I’d been told that he was really good, but I hadn’t gotten around to listening to any of his stuff beforehand, so I was going in a complete tabula rasa as far as his work was concerned. So what’s the verdict? Pretty damn good, I say. An entertaining and engagin performer, his songs ranged from raw gutbucket country to hypnotically quiet folk songs. Some of the more deliberately quirky numbers seemed a little too forced, but there was a lot of quality material in the man’s repetoire. His between-song banter was priceless, too. “I know you’re all here to see Wilco. I raised those boys myself, you know. Found them with a basket of kittens”. He had to cancel a local headlining date for tonight to swing the opening gigs for Wilco through Canada, so hopefully that means he’ll be back sooner than later to make it up to those who missed out. I’m going to be seeking out more of his stuff.
As for the headliners… man, words fail. This is the fifth time I’ve seen Wilco live, so you’d think that I’d have a pretty good idea of what to expect from their shows, and I thought I did. Maybe it was the new lineup – the fourth different one I’ve seen – the high-on-life Jeff Tweedy or the electricity in the sold-out, (relatively) tiny venue, but last night they absolutely killed. From the fingerpicked acoustic guitar that opened “Muzzle Of Bees”, the band was in another zone completely. Highlights included the synchronized guitar leads between Nels Cline and Jeff Tweedy in “Hell Is Chrome”, the thunderous breakdown in “At Least That’s What You Said”, Pat Sansone (who looks a helluva lot like Beck) striking every rock star pose in the book on “I’m A Wheel”, Jeff’s dance moves in “Hummingbird”, his sub-orbital soloing through “I’m The Man Who Loves You”, the wall of sound that closed out “Poor Places” giving way to the unbelievable rock stomp of set closer “Spiders (Kidsmoke)”. Anyone who complained about the Krautrock arrangement of that tune on the album has to see it performed live to understand how perfect it is. In fact, almost all the A Ghost Is Born material takes on a whole new dimension when heard live – it gave me a whole new appreciation for the record which I was coming to quite like anyway. They played two encores – the first was the rock encore with Nels and Jeff partaking in ritual Jazzmaster abuse through “I’m A Wheel”, “Kicking Television” and “The Late Greats”, while the second encore was the acoustic encore, featuring older numbers “Far, Far Away”, “Via Chicago”, “California Stars” and “The Lonely 1”.
The full setlist was as follows:
Muzzle of Bees
A Shot In the Arm
Hell Is Chrome
I Am Trying To Break Your Heart
War On War
At Least That’s What You Said
Company In My Back
Heavy Metal Drummer
I’m The Man Who Loves You
I’m A Wheel
Far, Far Away
The Lonely 1
Some random observations: Not content to only play guitar like Neil Young, Tweedy’s even starting to look like him… when he took the stage in the hat and coat, I thought I was looking at the cover of Comes A Time. Nels Cline is a sick, sick, sick, sick guitar player. And I mean that in the best possible way. The sounds he wrung out of his Jazzmaster were unbelievable – I hope he stays with the band beyond just touring the current record. Glenn Kotche is still the most amazing drummer in rock. And I got a couple pictures of Jeff Tweedy’s pedalboard (one, two), if anyone wanted to see how he makes all those nutty sounds. Guitars on the night were as follows: Jeff Tweedy – Santa Cruz acoustic, three separate Gibson SGs with Maestro vibrato (one blue, two red) and a sunburst Fender Jazzmaster, red Epiphone Casino. Nels Cline – two Fender Jazzmasters, a Fender Jaguar and a Danelectro 12-string. Pat Sansone – white Fender Telecaster.
One of the reasons I was so thrilled they were playing a venue as small as the Mod Club was that I’d get the opportunity to take pictures of them up close, something I didn’t expect to ever get the chance to do. While I wasn’t right up front, I was close enough to get some pretty damn good shots, I think. Mod Club lighting system, I love you. You make me want to cry. I filled up two memory cards with pics and here are the keepers. I had brought along my brother’s Sony 3.2 mpx camera with the intention of getting higher resolution shots from this rare occasion, but decided to stick with my old Fuji since I knew how it worked and I knew if I was getting good shots or not. I had not idea how to use the Sony. I’m quite please with how the pictures turned out – you’ll note there’s considerably more of them than I usually have for a show. As I said, special occasions and all that. So while the lighting and sightlines at the Mod Club were great, the sound was just pretty good – a little boomy in the low end. It made the more rocked up numbers that much punchier but the quieter material was a little muddy. That’s a very minor complaint, though.
I don’t know if I’ve successfully conveyed just how great the show was. I feel so fortunate to be able to see my favorite band in their prime, at the peak of their powers so to speak. I left the show horribly sweaty but euphoric, I didn’t get to bed until almost 3AM (though now that I’ve had to get up barely four hours later without the adrenaline kick, I’m regretting that a little). For all the shows I go to, I’ve rarely ever come out of one with the tingle you could liken to a religious experience – I’m talking maybe one a year would qualify. Maybe. Last night’s show tops all of them. I’m probably sounding over-the-top with my praise, but what can I say? I’m just a fan. I’m almost apprehensive of their next show in town, whenever that may be, because I can’t imagine it topping this one. And man, I hope to hell someone taped the show.
I’m sure there’s other interesting news today, but that can wait a day. For today, this is all there’s gonna be.
np – Wilco / A Ghost Is Born