Monday, July 10th, 2006
Bob Dylan's 49th Beard
Really, what sort of preamble is necessary when talking about Wilco? By numbers – Friday night was my seventh time seeing them live, the third with the Ghost lineup and the first in a year and a half. I suppose you could say this was a Kicking Television tour, but I’ve never really held with the idea that you can/should tour a live record. Anyway. Wilco needs no excuse or reason. If and when they want to visit, you just roll out the carpet.
Opening up was fellow Chicagoans The M’s, whose new record Future Women I reviewed last month and who had the rather unenviable task of playing to a nearly-empty Massey Hall. In addition to it surely being a much larger venue than they were accustomed to playing, the normally excellent acoustics were muddled and boomy, probably on account of the fact that it was designed to sound good with people in it. Regardless, The M’s plugged ahead with a 40-minute set of retro-esque garage-glam – I thought they were fine though they didn’t get me any more excited about their album.
Wilco has been working A Ghost Is Born for two years now, and as I mentioned this would be the third time I’d seen them in support of that particular record – which is why it was more than a little exciting to hear them start the show with an all-new song, played for the first time anywhere. “There’s A Light” was a beautiful acoustic-led number in a folky vein that Wilco hasn’t mined much in recent years. In addition to “Light”, there were two other new songs thrown into the set – “Walken”, a straightforward stomper that’s been kicking around for a while and “Impossible Germany”, which was simply dazzling and certainly bodes well for the forthcoming album. Of course, “Spiders” was also a live favourite before they got into the studio with it and turned it on its head (into a completely different live favourite).
The rest of the set was the usual suspects – heavy on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and A Ghost Is Born, a couple cuts from Summerteeth and from the Mermaid Avenue records (I was perfectly happy to trade “California Stars” for “Airline To Heaven”), nothing from AM and “Misunderstood” representing Being There. A surprise addition to the set, however, was Being There‘s “Kingpin”, which closed the first encore. In the past seven years, Wilco has never played it’s not our fault that we didn’t know the audience participation drill – Jeff Tweedy, resplendent in bushy beard and leg brace (stress fractures from running) had to coach the crowd in yelling at the top of our lungs in response to the “How can I…” lyric. I don’t know when or where that started, but it was fun, I admit.
Which brings us to the most common post-game topic of discussion of this particular show. It was fully fifty minutes into the show before Jeff addressed the audience, who to that point had been seated politely but responding to each song enthusiastically. And before long, he was calling the audience “motherf*ckers” and basically demanding everyone get up and if not dance, at least demonstrate a little energy. Which we all did, happily, and I won’t say that the energy level of the show didn’t pick up at that point (well, shortly thereafter – getting everone to stand and then playing a mellow number like “Jesus, Etc” seemed a bit odd), but standing at seated venues is always tricky. Unless my dogs are barking, I don’t really care one way or the other but I never want to be the one blocking five rows behind me because I think because it’s a “rock show” that courtesy and consideration go out the window. But anyway, it was as good a time as any for everyone to stand and shake it a bit. Tweedy also offered suggestions to behaviour at future shows, which I’ve linked in video form below. Kinda funny. However to anyone who complains about seated venues like Massey Hall, let me say that a) it has far and away the best sound in the city, and b) if you don’t like it and want to stand, just consider these four words: “Wilco. At. The. Docks”. Now shut up.
But the show, overall, was spectacular though I expect nothing less. Enough time had passed that I was able to enjoy the show for what it was, and not be tempted to compare it to the unmatchable intimacy of the August 2004 Mod Club show, which I couldn’t say for the last Massey Hall show in October of the same year. In that time, even though I wouldn’t have believed it if you told me at the time, the band has gotten even tighter and more simpatico each time out. This time Nels Cline’s guitar leads, which in the past may have been ready to burst out of the seams of Wilco’s songs, finally seemed to fully mesh and pull bring the song along with it when it soared. The triple-guitar outro of “Handshake Drugs” was also stunning, thanks to utility man Pat Sansone. Even though I’d heard most of the set countless times either live or in live recordings, they still manage to entrance – a testament both to the songs and the band. That doesn’t mean that I’m not happy to hear that Wilco will be going off the road after this Canadian tour and working in earnest on a new record. Get to it, boys.
When I was in New York last week, I went out and bought a long, fast lens expressly for the purpose of getting some decent photos from the 6th row. While it’s also turned out to be superb for in-close club shots, it also did the job really well on Friday night – check out the pics. Even with heavy cropping, most still look pretty damn sharp if I do say so myself.
Further support materials – the MP3 of the Bill Fay cover, “Be Not So Fearful” comes from the October 2004 Massey Hall show. I had the Loose Fur version as one of my very first MP3s of the week back in 2002, but this version is much fuller and nicer. The track is one of my more frequent archive requests and seems to mean an uncommon amount to people, so everyone – enjoy. I’ve also posted an mp3 of “Impossible Germany” from their show in Milwaukee last week – you can torrent the whole of that show at Dime A Dozen. Apologies if posting the MP3 is a heinous breach of taper ettiquite – if posting the one track compressed is evil, let me know and I’ll take it down.
Also, thanks to Thom, who also has photos from the show, for the video of Jeff Tweedy thanking Toronto for their politeness but also imploring us to get up and get rude. The Toronto Sun has a review of the show, as does For The Records and Torontoist along with some nice centre-balcony photos. Chart also has a review.
MP3: Wilco – “Be Not So Fearful” (live in Toronto 2004-10-04)
MP3: Wilco – “Impossible Germany” (live in Milwaukee 2006-07-05)
MP3: The M’s – “Plan Of The Man”
Video: Wilco loves Toronto (AVI) – 10MB
Video: The M’s – “Mansion In The Valley” (MOV)
MySpace: The M’s
np – TV On The Radio / Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes