Went to a concert last night, and it wasn’t Phish, hard to believe I know. It was a big festive Wilco show at the Kane County Baseball Stadium. I didn’t realize going in that I’ve missed the last three Wilco albums. In my defense, I wasn’t the biggest fan of Ghost is Born or Sky Blue Sky, so I kind of fell out of the loop and out of love with Jeff Tweedy and Wilco. After last night, I need to go back and make some corrections.
It was quite a show from the onset, well almost. I’m not the biggest fan of opening acts and we got two before the main attraction. The first was a soul band called the Congregation. They were…meh. It was ok I suppose but like many acts that fall into that genre it is so incredibly repetitive that it just gets boring. It isn’t just restricted to the music either, though the same horn parts that have been played since the 1960s do tend to get old. No, it’s the whole act that is worn out. All of the men came out dressed in dark suits, the lead singer in a dress. All of the songs revolved around love/cheating/heartbreak pretty much take your pick. In every song there was drinking/smoking/late night regrets. Trust me if you’ve seen The Commitments, you’ve pretty much seen this show. Why not change it up? Dress differently, come up with other ideas for songs, something. Will their union card be revoked if they drop the skinny ties? Look, I get they are talented musicians and I don’t hate soul music, but it needs a shot in the arm.
The revelation of the night was Andrew Bird. I know the kids love him, but my WXRT listening days are pretty limited these days so I really didn’t know much about him. Basically, he sold me a ticket to another show hopefully in a much smaller venue. I imagine his performance would work much better in a more intimate setting. Even so, Andrew Bird was quite good, obviously talented and the music itself was quite engaging. He and his band played around with a lot of different sounds and layers, what I think would be timbre? On the surface it had a folky/alt-country vibe, but there was a steady use of feedback and guitar distortion giving it a much more nuanced feel. On top of that, Bird played multiple instruments, sang and something not heard all the time, whistling. Which brings me to my major criticism of Bird, play one instrument; I understand wanting to add as much as one can to the music. I mean why only paint with one color right? But it got to be a bit distracting, almost gimmicky. I guess counting the whistling, violin, and singing it is three sources if you will and that seems about right. Taking time out to play the dulcimer and guitar just seemed kind of pointless. I do have a minor criticism, and this could extend to Wilco as well. Basically throughout Bird’s set, and Wilco’s, they would get into some just amazing stuff, that Brian Eno ambient music sort of thing that I absolutely love.* Unfortunately, both Bird and Wilco would abruptly stop and go off on the next poppy tune. I know, most folks aren’t up for a twelve minute exploration and interplay between a violin and guitar, but I would love it. That’s why I go to Phish.
* for a great explanation of ambient music listen to the intro and entire fourth set from Phish at the Lemon Wheel, 8/16/98. Perfect.
The main event was of course, Wilco. It was a pretty tight set with a lot of songs from the catalog and as Jeff Tweedy said at one point, “we are in the deep cuts portion of the show.” Which if you wanted to see the hits, you might have been disappointed. Of course as the home town show, we got the rarities and special “Chicago” set. I particularly liked Box Full of Letters from AM and Say You Miss Me from Being There and especially Via Chicago from Summerteeth, a personal favorite. I really need to pick up The Whole Love because everything I heard from that album was really good. The second encore was a mini-tribute to Woody Gutherie which was great, especially from the car. My concert partner wanted to go and get back home and I’m not averse to missing an encore. As we were driving away the DJ on XRT was talking about how special the night was and how glad he was there to see it. I’m not saying it wasn’t a good show, a great show even, but it wasn’t what I would call a special night. I just didn’t feel that buzz, but maybe I’m not a big enough fan. I know in 1996 at the Clifford Ball, the first Phish Festival, I felt that buzz, but maybe my devotion to the band colors it. More than anything after the Wilco show I wanted two things: the Wilco records I don’t have and to make sure I don’t miss them the next time they play a small venue in Chicago.