March 2, 2008
Wilco has always been a wonderful band. Their original, grass-rooted Americana/Alt-Country vibe eventually gave way to experimental instrumentation, but one variable never swayed: they have always made great music. When they came to one of America’s favorite venues for live music, Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium, it was no surprise that it sold out rather quickly.
They opened the night with a very fitting “Via Chicago” from the album Summerteeth. The Midwest has given us many great bands, yet it is not really perceived as fruitful musical soil. The vast array of talent that comprises Wilco overwhelmed listeners. Guitarist Nels Cline commanded the crowd’s attention, and drummer Glenn Kotche never seems to stop astonishing audiences with his inventive work behind the kit. There seemed to be a valid attempt to play every great song in the arsenal which took the crowd thru “Blood of the Lamb,” “Pieholden Suite” and “California Stars.”
One might have expected to hear all of the tracks off of 2007’s beautiful, Grammy-nominated Sky Blue Sky, yet they only played five: “You are my Face,” “Side with Seeds,” “Pot Kettle Black,” “Impossible Germany” and “Hate it Here.” In fact the night’s setlist spanned eight different albums.
One of the night’s most fond memories would have to be the elegant “Handshake Drugs.” John Stirratt’s bass line fell in behind the acoustic guitar intro, and off they went. The presence of the song was greeted with one of the only moments of voluminous appreciation – not that the crowd did not appreciate what they had heard the rest of the evening; there was just a rare reverence for the music and no one wanted to miss a beat.
Jeff Tweedy has always been portrayed as a quiet, bashful guy who does not like to speak to press or the public, yet his stage presence was spectacular. Throughout the whole evening’s performance he was cracking jokes and looked nothing short of astonishing in his white suit trimmed with flawlessly-crafted red roses. At one point, he responded to someone in the crowd’s remark of "nice jacket" with “It’s not a jacket it’s a suit.”
When the band walked off the stage after the Beatles-esque “I’m the Man who Loves You,” everything would have been fine if the show was over. Yet no one would muster a complaint for the extra offering that was in store. Tweedy surfaced alone with an acoustic guitar and a request for the audience to allow him to try something. He then proceeded to the front of the stage without a microphone and serenaded the audience with a beautiful “Someone Else’s Song.” Afterward, the rest of the band joined him for five more songs.
Certainly at this point they had more than given the audience their money’s worth, yet they returned for a second encore, a lone performance of “The Late Greats.” There could have been no more fitting end to a joyous evening by the new greats.