Concert review: Wilco closes tour with slam-bang finish
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A few audience etiquette questions arose at the Wilco concert last night, foremost among them being: After a band just played 34 songs, do you REALLY demand an encore?
The happy, sold-out crowd at Carnegie Music Hall did, and Jeff Tweedy and company obliged, with fingers that must surely be well calloused by now.
"We're going to play a couple more songs," the disheveled-looking frontman said jokingly, "and then we'll have a rave!"
Having kicked around now for 16 years and seven albums, Wilco decided on this tour, which came to a slam-bang finish last night, to join the 2:45 club -- as in two hours, 45 minutes. It's an elite group that includes the likes of the Grateful Dead, Bruce Springsteen and Phish.
In that timespan, the Dead would generally meander through 20 songs, plus "Drums" and "Space." Wilco's specialty is banging out pop songs that generally run from three to five minutes and range from country-folk to power-pop to full-out noise-rock.
Those who came for the vintage stuff had to be patient during the early part of the set while the band delivered a heavy dose of the two most recent albums, including the welcoming "Wilco (the Song)," the spare, Spoon-like "Bull Black Nova" and the slow, dreamy "Deeper Down."
There was one of those stand-up/sit-down dilemmas as Wilco broke it up with the "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" classic "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart," a song that exploded into controlled chaos. At song No. 6, "A Shot in the Arm" was exactly that, a throbbing power-pop injection that had Mikael Jorgensen actually going at his keyboard with, of all things, a towel.
Guitar ringer Nels Cline, of the Television school, had his moments to shred, none better than on "Impossible Germany," with its beautifully crafted and ultimately thrashy solo.
Amid the stunning feedback eruption that ended "Poor Places," the roadies seamlessly transformed the stage, with new instruments and five lamps, for the band to slide right into its semi-acoustic set on the pulsing "Spiders (Kidsmoke)," a song that had its own driving guitar climax.
On just about every visit to town, Mr. Tweedy -- going back to Graffiti, Metropol and, especially Star Lake -- has confronted his audience one way or another. This time, it was over chatter. "This point of the show is a little quieter," he said. "I can hear you talking. I dedicate the next song to the people who don't have $50 to throw away on a show."
Somehow, it served to hush those people and also loosen up the show even more for Wilco to plow through the noisy "Laminated Cat," the electric bluegrass of "Forget the Flowers" and the hilarious stoner lament "Passenger Side." After a tender "When You Wake Up Feeling Old," he joked, "That song makes me wonder why people always talk about Wilco losing their edge. We've always been [sissies]."
The upbeat Guthrie/Wilco track "Airline in Heaven" became a raucous return to the electric set-up and jubilant final third of the show. "Via Chicago" best exemplified Wilco's split personality as Mr. Tweedy sang out his weary tune while his minstrels maximized the turbulence behind him.
The frontman suggested people pay the babysitter "a little extra" and kept rolling: "Box Full of Letters" was a joyous country-rock throwback; "Jesus Etc." was one for the crowd to shout out; "Candyfloss" and "Hate It Here" channeled different eras of the Beatles; "Walken" rode the funk wave like Little Feat; "I'm the Man Who Loves You" was off-the-hook ecstatic; and "Thank You Friends" was a moving tribute to Big Star.
"This might be the best show we ever played," Mr. Tweedy said, then added softly, "Well, I don't know. I doubt it."
Still, by the time Wilco finished the set -- and the tour -- with "Outtasite," he may have convinced a few people in the house.
Wilco, welcome to the 2:45 club!
First Published April 12, 2010 7:21 am