By Tyler Asay
Wilco is a band. Wilco (The Album) is a record by the band Wilco. Released in June of 2009, Wilco’s self-referential seventh studio album brought Wilco (The Tour) to about 140 cities throughout ‘09 and ‘10, including a stop at Victoria, British Columbia’s Royal Theatre (Capacity: 1,416) on February 12th, 2010.
The Chicago band, led by singer/songwriter Jeff Tweedy, has always been notorious for riotous live shows that tow the line between full-hearted American rock and roll with jammy interludes and a sweet, sensitive delicacy that always promotes musicianship. This show at the Royal Theatre shows Wilco at the peak of their powers; a band that has found their groove that they will ride all the way to present day, and they haven’t lost a step since. Listening back twelve years later, and you can hear this beloved rock act delivering the goods to a crowd that truly cares.
The show opens with “Wilco (The Song)”, the album’s (and band’s) title track. “Wilco love you, baby” winks the chorus, with a proto-Siri styled voice announcing the band members to the crowd: “On bass, John Stirratt; on keys, Mikael Jorgensen; multi-instrumentalist Pat Sansone; on drums, Glenn Kotche; on guitars, Nels Cline; & and on lead vocals and guitar, Jeff Tweedy.
“Ladies & Gentlemen, Wilco.”
Wilco immediately follows up with the bombastic opener from their classic 2002 record Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart.” In comes the noise, in comes the drums, in comes the acoustic guitar. “I am an American aquarium drinker,” sings Tweedy over a cacophony of whirling guitars, and the show is on. “What was I thinking when I said…” is answered by an ecstatic fan:
In 2010, Wilco was at the point of their career where every song, including deep cuts, felt like a hit parade. Seven albums in and jumping back and forth between the rollicking jam “Bull Black Nova” and the total groove of Sky Blue Sky’s “You Are My Face” feels absolutely natural, especially since the band has settled into this natural live setting. Even though the band is known for their ever-changing studio evolution record to record, this six-piece pulls these songs apart and pieces them back together. Perfect example: A song like “A Shot In The Arm,” from 1999’s power pop leaning Summerteeth, retains its sunshine bright harmonies but leans into the darkness a little, especially when played up against the bitter and beautiful “At Least That’s What You Said.”
Before launching into “Nothing’severgoinastandinmyway(again)”, Tweedy told the audience that Victoria has “Shot up their list of favorite places” and mentioned the only way to get to the city is by boat. This was Wilco’s first time playing in Victoria, BC. The band played at the Paramount Theatre in Seattle two nights before (February 10th, 2010) and at David Lam Park in Vancouver the night after (February 13th).
The communal vibe of this Wilco show was ever present in a “Jesus, Etc.” singalong which Tweedy described as a “litmus test to see if we should come back to a city.” Through laughter, applause, and pure joy heard in the voice of the crowd, you can hear Tweedy’s positive response. “That was good! That was great, that was better than good!”
2010 was a raw and ragged period for the live version of Wilco, and this show presents a portrait of the band hitting their stride and playing loose with the setlist and arrangements. Towards the end of set one, the band knocked all of their “fan favorites” out of the way in a row: a super slick seven minute “Impossible Germany” (“This is the first time Nels ever worn tennis shoes on stage, and I think he just dunked on you guys” – Jeff Tweedy) goes right into a blissful “California Stars.” Wilco is rounding the bases here, it’s all a homerun.
The main set reaches a climax with Wilco (The Album) deep cut “Sonny Feeling,” a spirited jangle doused in sunshine bright harmonies. Tweedy reflects on the hypocrisy of suburbia and sharp wordplay with lines about “mini-mart clerks” and “Eminem’s suburban gangster flow” while the band rockets through a power pop bounce and a classic Nels Cline ripper of a solo. Tweedy sings in an skeptical but optimistic voice,
I’m on my way home
From my high school
I’m always contemplating
Why the kids are still cruel
Oh, the kids are still cruel
Wilco then brings it home with the Beatles-styled strut of Sky Blue Sky’s “Hate It Here” and “Walken”, before closing out with live classic “I’m The Man Who Loves You.” After a brief break and cheering applause, the band returns to the stage with a surprise: a cover of Buffalo Springfield’s epic “Broken Arrow.”
“Broken Arrow”’s construction reflects its title: a fractured tower of razor sharp melodies, masterfully pieced together by one of the few modern bands who could feasibly do it. Wilco’s take is a little heartier than Buffalo Springfield’s original, with Nels Cline’s beefed up guitars and some heavy, soupy layers of synth. It’s cut in the middle with a spirited take on “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” before Tweedy returns with:
Eighteen years of American dream
He saw that his brother had sworn on the wall
He hung up his eyelids and ran down the hall
His mother had told him a trip was a fall
And don’t mention babies at all
Did you see him?
Did you see him?
The first encore closes out with a raging 12-minute “Spiders (Kidsmoke)” and an upbeat “Hummingbird,” both from 2004’s A Ghost Is Born. After an absolutely rousing round of applause, Wilco returned to the stage for a second encore of older classics. “Heavy Metal Drummer” burns right into the one-two punch of “Red-Eyed And Blue” and “I Got You (At The End Of The Century)” from their landmark double LP, Being There.
Wilco is a band aware of their place in the history of American rock and roll, especially when it comes to live music, and they are eternally selfless and courteous to their fans. Going to Wilco show is like hanging out with old friends, and their February 12th, 2010 performance at the Royal Theatre in Victoria, BC is the ultimate hang.
Wilco (The Song)
I Am Trying to Break Your Heart
Bull Black Nova
You Are My Face
A Shot in the Arm
At Least That’s What You Said
Hate It Here
I’m the Man Who Loves You
Broken Arrow (Buffalo Springfield cover)
Heavy Metal Drummer
Red-Eyed and Blue
I Got You (At the End of the Century)
Hoodoo Voodoo (Billy Bragg & Wilco cover)
I’m a Wheel
You can see Wilco live in concert this April in Chicago and New York, and headlining the Solid Sound Festival in May before they head to Europe in June!