Monday, July 2nd, 2007
“The next time we’re in town, we want outrageous, rambunctious behaviour right off the bat”.
So said Jeff Tweedy the last time Wilco came through town almost a year ago and remembering that dressing down (watch the 10MB AVI of him berating us), Saturday night’s Wilco show at Massey Hall started with a good old-fashioned stage rush from the floor seats that pretty much set the tone for the night – and we didn’t even have to yell, “Enough with the artsy-fartsy sombre numbers, man”. This was the last night of a two and a half week North American tour and while that’s barely a walk in the park for road warriors like Wilco, they were prepared to leave it all on stage. Every last bit.
But before I get into that, Low deserves mention. Of all the bands I’ve seen open for Wilco over the years, they were the first I was really excited about rather than curious and it’s a shame they’ll probably never be big enough to play a venue like Massey on their own because they sounded magnificent. The acoustics of the room suited them perfectly, their spare and solemn hymns ringing out like it was a cathedral. It’s kind of funny that a band that’s released what’s arguably their darkest, bleakest record in Drums And Guns should tour with one who just released their lightest and breeziest (Wilco and Sky Blue Sky, if you need cue cards) but whatever, whyever, I’m grateful for it. Wilco axeman Nels Cline came out to lend lap steel on a couple songs including a stunning reading of “Pissing” and when their too-short 40-minute set wrapped, they left the stage to a standing ovation from the audience.
And back to the main event. Considering this was my ninth time seeing Wilco – four times in support of A Ghost Is Born alone – it was a very real risk that what used to be an event was starting to feel a bit routine. After all, the set list over the past few years hasn’t changed that much, gradually evolving with the introduction of new songs rather than offering many surprises from the band (and Jeff Tweedy’s) expansive back catalog. And so it figures that just when I’m starting to get a bit complacent in my appreciation for Wilco (I like – but don’t love – SBS), they turn around and remind me why and how much I love the band.
I thought they were tight before, but somehow, somewhere, they managed to find yet another level and make it seem effortless. I had thought that I might be tired of hearing the same songs as the past shows played yet again but not so – I still got excited at the opening drum fills of “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart”, the crashing crescendo of “Via Chicago”, Nels Cline’s sublime solo to wind out “Ashes Of American Flags”… I guess I forgot it’s not just the song, it’s the performance. As mentioned, this was the final date of the current tour and as such, the band was in a particularly loose and jovial mood, joking and goofing about. Moreso than any other time I’ve seen them, they seemed to be having an obscene amount of fun onstage and that carried over to the audience, who were basking in the glow of a band of supremely talented musicians in absolutely top form. Tweedy was chattier than ever, calling us the best audience of the tour (a nice change from being chewed out for being too polite), flaunting his t-shirt emblazoned with the words “Sellout” during “Hummingbird” (sponsored by Volkswagen?) and inciting Pat Sansone to take on Cline in a guitar solo showdown during show finale “Hoodoo Voodoo”. Normally I’d say anyone who goes six-string gunning for Nels Cline is a fool and a half but damn if Sansone didn’t hold his own.
Since their August 2004 show at the Mod Club, that has been my indisputable best Wilco show – how could you possibly top the specialness and intimacy of seeing them play a 550-capacity club? Well it took almost three years, but they did it. MAN did they do it. What a night.
Photos: Wilco, Low @ Massey Hall – June 30, 2007
MP3: Wilco – “What Light”
MP3: Low – “Breaker”
Video: Low – “Breaker” (YouTube)
Video: Low – “Belarus” (YouTube)
Video: Low – “Hatchet” (YouTube)
Video: Low – “Breaker” animated version (YouTube)
Video: Low – “In Silence” (YouTube)
Somehow Spinner knew I’m about two hours away from having season four of The Wire downloaded as they pointed to this MP3 of Tom Waits performing “Way Down In The Hole, aka the theme song of the show, accompanied by the Kronos Quartet in a 2003 live performance in support of the Healing The Divide foundation.
Happy Canada Day statutory holiday day, everyone! Unless you’re working today in which case… sucks to be you!