Tuesday, October 20th, 2009
Wilco Love You, Baby
Wilco and Liam Finn at Massey Hall in Toronto
Frank YangWhen I reviewed Wilco’s latest Wilco (The Album) back in July, I alluded to the absurdly tight musical chemistry of current lineup and how that effortlessness could actually be perceived as a detriment to the band. The same can be said of the band in performance – yes, they are arguably one of the best live acts on the road today, but with that praise comes certain problems. Like say you’ve seen said band, oh, a dozen times or more in the past decade and a baseline of “amazing” has been established for their shows – it’s very difficult for proceedings to not take on an air of over-familiarity, no matter how good they might be.
The one glorious exception in recent years was the second night of last year’s tour in support of Neil Young at the Air Canada Centre, where an absent Glenn Kotche necessitated a rotation of replacement drummers who got to call the set list. This resulted in an unbelievably spirited and unpredictable set that reached further back into the band’s catalog than they’d gone in Toronto in many, many, many years and the thought of which still brings a goofy grin to the face. So the fact that the band were soliciting requests via their website in advance of the shows made me hope that there’d be a surprise or five in the offing last Thursday night, the second of their two-night stand at Massey Hall.
Support for both nights was Liam Finn, whose acquaintance Wilco made whilst participating in the 7 Worlds Collide project organized by Finn’s father, Neil. And while Finn the younger has surely inherited his father’s innate musicality, he chooses to express it in a decidedly different way than his pop’s perfect pop (sorry – could not resist). Instead, he and collaborator Eliza Jane Barnes – and Glenn Kotche on a few songs – created a garage-rock symphony of looped guitar, voice, drums and keys and augmented it with some hyperactive and acrobatic stage moves that for all their seeming chaos were perfectly choreographed and timed to never miss a beat or cue. It was something to see and hear, and extra points for catering to the city and venue with a cover of “Cinnamon Girl”. Anyone impressed with Finn’s set – and that probably included most who saw it – should note that he’s back in town on October 29 for a show at Lee’s Palace.
The thing about Wilco shows is that, as previously mentioned, you are basically guaranteed a stellar performance. The only variables are the set list and, to a lesser extent, Jeff Tweedy’s mood. He’s never been outright surly, but playfulness isn’t a given either so catching him in particularly good spirits, as he was this evening, was a treat. Granted, it wasn’t until halfway through the night that he even addressed the crowd with a simple, “how you doing?” but interaction only grew from there, as he let the audience handle vocals on “Jesus, Etc” (though sadly, not everyone seemed to remember the words) and then mugging it up through “Hummingbird”. Nothing hugely atypical, but he was definitely having fun with it.
As to the song selection, the set list for the Wednesday show had a few treats I was sad to miss including “Shot In The Arm” and “Can’t Stand It”, but hoped that meant at least that many older gems for Thursday night. Those hopes dimmed when, as the main set was reaching its conclusion, it became clear that they had not yet and were unlikely to play anything pre-Yankee Hotel Foxtrot – at least not before the encore. Wilco (The Album) was well-represented, as was YHF and A Ghost Is Born – I hadn’t realized how long it’d been since I’d heard some of those tunes – but the much-anticipated catalog excavation wasn’t happening. What exactly had people been requesting? “Walken”?
The encore opened with “Wilco (The Song)” and the next song opened with a drum beat that was so familiar but hadn’t been heard in so long – “Misunderstood”. Hello, Being There, it’s been a while. Liam Finn and Eliza Jane Barnes were then invited out to join the band on “California Stars” and as they left, I noticed a stage hand ushering someone else onto the side of the stage. Another special guest, Ms Leslie Feist. Tweedy dryly noted, “I think she’s from around here” to great applause before they performed the (Album) duet, “You And I” – a good reading of a song that’s a favourite from the new record, but not as transcendent as I’d hoped. But that transcendent moment would come a couple songs later with A.M.‘s “Casino Queen”, which I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen them play and which they absolutely tore to pieces. C’mon Jeff, you can’t tell me that wasn’t insanely fun to play? It was certainly a blast to hear. Bust out the old stuff more often! They had time to finish off with, “I’m A Wheel” and then it was a wave and goodbye.
Was it a hell of a show, just like pretty much every other Wilco show? Yes, it was. Was the final set list the treasure trove of rarities that I’d probably unrealistically been hoping for? No, not even close to be honest, but we’ll always have the Being There suite from the ACC in 2008. I still love you, Wilco. See you next time.
And next time might be sooner than you think – the previously announced cross-Canada tour set for next February goes on sale this week. For southern Ontario, that’s February 23 at Hamilton Place Theatre in Hamilton, February 24 at Centennial Hall in London and March 1 at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa – presales for all open at 10AM on October 21, which is to say tomorrow.
And note that media were allowed to shoot photos on night one but I had a ticket for night two, hence the photo sets from both.
Photos: Wilco @ Massey Hall – October 14, 2009
Photos: Wilco, Liam Finn @ Massey Hall – October 15, 2009
MP3: Wilco – “What Light”
MP3: Liam Finn – “Plane Crash”
Video: Wilco – “What Light”
Video: Wilco – “Outtasite (Outta Mind)”
Video: Wilco – “Box Full Of Letters”
Video: Wilco – “I Must Be High”
Video: Liam Finn – “Second Chance”
Video: Liam Finn – “Gather To The Chapel”
Video: Liam Finn – “Better To Be”
MySpace: Liam Finn
Billboard talks to Jay Farrar about One Fast Move or I’m Gone, his Jack Kerouac-themed project with Ben Gibbard. He also clarifies that his project with Nora Guthrie is not going to be another volume of Mermaid Avenue, but something different. Another track from the Kerouac record is available to stream at Stereogum.
Jason Molina talks to Pitchfork about Molina & Johnson, the collaboration with Will Johnson that has yielded the album Molina & Johnson, due out November 3. Will Johnson, incidentally, is also working on the aforementioned Nora Guthrie project with Jay Farrar. Everyone’s workin’ with everyone.
Sufjan Stevens’ expressway love letter The BQE is out today and streaming at Spinner. There’s a screening of the film portion on September 25 at Innis Town Hall at the University of Toronto. The Quietus also has an interview with Stevens.
Stream: Sufjan Stevens / The BQE
MP3: Fanfarlo – “Luna”
Blurt, The Independent and The Los Angeles Times have feature interviews with Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips, the last of which reveals the band have recorded a cover album of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon – and they proved it yesterday by performing “Eclipse” on KCRW’s Morning Becomes Eclectic.