Monday night at New York’s Hammerstein Ballroom
saw the welcome return of Chicago natives Wilco
, and much like the protean sound that the group has come to be known for, the evening was chock full of incongruities that somehow meshed into an amazing organic performance.
Wilco’s sound, especially in reference to the new album, could also be described as mellow, but their performance, infused with classic elements of pure rock, was anything but somnambulant. Various elements throughout the show seemed to conspire to keep the audience from ever completely knowing what direction the group would be taking next. The blues, country, and bluegrass elements that Wilco has always featured in their music made guest appearances on different songs. Jeff Tweedy
’s mostly folk stance was counterbalanced by Matrix, an Aussie guitarist the band brought in for support, who positively shredded the guitar. Apparently I wasn’t the only one watching School of Rock
on the Cartoon Network this past Sunday.
The blending of seemingly conflicting elements appeared to be the theme of the show, as the band alternatively created the sort of intimate setting their music is suited for, then easily rocked out on the next track. At one point, Tweedy, who was in high spirits throughout the night, cracked a joke about the sudden shifts in mood the set list was calling for. Just as incongruous was the set list’s lean towards Yankee Hotel Foxtrot standards for a tour that one would think is meant to promote the new album, released only last month.
If there’s an art to simplicity (and there certainly must be), Wilco has discovered it. Aside from their apparent return to lighter production than what was featured on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
and A Ghost is Born
, their performance highlighted just how powerful a good rock group with a solid set of songs can be without any showy production values. To demonstrate this point, a macramé owl, relatively small compared to the rest of the stage, dropped from the ceiling during “Hate it Here”, as if it represented the entirety of their production budget. The owl itself looked like it came straight from the old Tootsie Pop commercials, and was very Spinal Tap-esque in its muted silliness. All in all, the show was a ridiculous 2+ hours, complete with two encores, a full rendition of “Spiders (Kidsmoke)” (10:46), and the chills-inducing “Poor Places”. The closing song of the night, “I’m a Wheel”, literally ended with the lyrics “I will turn on you”, as the band turned and bolted off the stage, leaving people a little stunned as to what had just happened.
Of course, every show has its downside. My only complaint, as a General Admission ticket holder, is that way too many of Wilco’s fans are absurdly tall. This should be resolved immediately. - Eric Silver
Photos Courtesty of Baby, You Got A Stew Goin'!