Regardless of what influxes Wilco's music may or may not have had in your life, there's no denying the comforting shawl that their live performances drape on your shoulders. The majesty and elegance of the 3,000 seat, 85 year-old Schnitzer Concert Hall (locally known as The Schnitz), did little to damper my sensation of walking into something akin to my best friend's living room. An enigma to the normal rock paradigm, it seems the bigger that Wilco gets, the closer to home they feel.
The subtle drift-in of "One Sunday Morning" was too much of a delicate opener for my tastes, but did validate my quick stop at the beer-stand. "Poor Places" followed though, and its massive growth served as a much better kick-off to a rock and roll concert. The subsequent "Art of Almost" was the only tune I really hoped they would play, and this Radiohead-esque track off last year's The Whole Love was positively enormous. A psychedelic exploration magnified by the brilliance of their new stage-lighting setup, it firmly stamped the seal of being the new go-to live track for the full Wilco experience. It easily dwarfed the usually enormous "Via Chicago," which seemed to fall flat this night mostly due to the crowd's inexperience with its live arrangement. Other expected explosions felt much more natural: everyone freaked out over "Handshake Drugs," "Shot in the Arm" shook the rafters, and "Can't Stand It" was notably humongous. And for the record, I am now certain that at the end of this tune Jeff Tweedy regularly alternates between singing "your prayers will never be answered again" and "your parents will never eat acid again" -- it's on the album too, I swear.
As usual, Nels Cline was a luminescent beast on lead guitar, and the development of the band's sound after adding Cline a few albums back made it hard to remember what they ever sounded like without him. His melting solo in "Impossible Germany" was the kind of thing that the hairs on the back of your neck live for, and I was slightly bummed it was the only track off Sky Blue Sky played all night. While probably not noted by the casual fan, the Wilco swooners like myself were most struck by the new, acoustic-drift arrangement of "Spiders (Kidsmoke)" from 2004's A Ghost is Born. The pulsing darkness of the studio version has morphed into an expansive warmness, re-crafting the sub-text of the lyrics and shaping the song into a whole new voyage of self-rumination. It's gone from dangerous to delicate, yet maintained its brilliance. And while that sounds like a great metaphorical tag-line to apply to the band itself, it doesn't work. Because while the show gives off the illusion of craft perfection, there's still an expansive call to danger that mightily projects their nature as a true rock band.
Jeff Tweedy was his normal adorable self, assuring the audience that Portlandia is only sarcastic love, and showing his amazement for the crowd's collective decision to simultaneously sit down at the beginning of the uber-slow "Black Moon." He commented that the encore would be a bunch of songs most people wouldn't know, and then played 3 of my favorite cuts from 1996's Being There. Not to say I'm cooler than anybody else, because I had never even heard "Just a Kid" from the Spongebob Squarepants Movie. It was killer though, just like the whole show, and proof that this band can and will do whatever their heart desires. Luckily, it's usually the same thing the fans want too.