Wilco At The 930 Club

  • Wilco’s not usually thought of as a ball of laughs, but they were loose and in fine fettle Tuesday at the 930 Club.  The core sextet was joined by a three-piece horn section, and of course the immediate reference point was The Band’s “Rock of Ages.”  If the “Mermaid Avenue” albums were as close we can get to channeling “The Basement Tapes,” then once again this is as close as we can get to a great Canadian-American amalgam playing those timeless bits of North American folk while headed by a Midwestern genius who genuinely loves Little Richard.
  • Nels Cline was gangly and exhibitionistic when he grabbed the strings in both hands and let loose some fine chaotic skronk, a mix of Robert Fripp and Tom Verlaine, but all in, for a noise-rock virtuoso, he sure seemed comfortable playing in a rock band.
  • Tweedy wore one of those LBJ Borsalinos, and seemed just the slightest bit on edge, calling a request for a louder amp “petty,” chiding the crowd — incorrectly as it turned out — for not knowing “SummerTeeth” well enough to sing along.  That said, he seems comfortable enough within his full body of work, with just enough — not too much, as in the Jay Bennett days — of a challenge from his bandmates, to settle in for what was both a greatest hits repertoire and some deep dives.  How cool was it for the band to play almost the whole first side of “Being There?”  And practically in order?  Way cool.  They even played the Dwight Twilley-esque “End of the Century,” which of course was amazing live.  I’d say the only album that got short shrift was “A Ghost Is Born,” but if that’s your craving, all you need to hear is “Handshake Drugs” and you’ve got your fix.
  • Wilco is a unique band.  Another way they’re comparable to the Dylan-Band collaboration is in terms of their historical perspective.  If you think about “Mermaid Avenue,” who else but Wilco (and Billy Bragg) would both have thought to put music to unscored Woody Guthrie lyrics, and then have done so in a fashion so of-the-age-appropriate?  They can delve into folk, alt.country, R&B, and yet more than any band other than the Drive By Truckers, play Southern-fried  harmony guitar like they’re Wet Willie or something.  It’s telling that they would, for example, record Gram Parson’s “One Hundred Years From Now” as pure Bachman-Turner Overdrive (another Yankee/Canuck collaboration); that “Walken” would take a page out of the Lowell George playbook.
  • As always, I was offended by the reference to hard drug use.  Isn’t there something really wrong about a sing-along to the words, “Maybe all I need is a shot in the arm,” followed by, “there’s something in my veins/bloodier than blood”?  I realize Tweedy’s in recovery, and singing your old songs, which make reference to drugs, isn’t like Eric Clapton getting sober and going out on a tour sponsored by a beer company.  No matter how it’s rationalized, if there was one kid who came to the show who thinks that it might now be cool to shoot up heroin, then something inexcusable has happened.
  • I found myself marveling at how much I enjoyed a band that at times can be so bland, so anodyne, and then punctures the moment with something incredibly raw and artful.  Live, they’ve always followed the Powell Doctrine of overwhelming force.  Tuesday night they also played with looseness and occasional delicacy.  When they feel like it, they really can truly overpower an audience, and all doubts. 

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