What, you're gonna ask a music writer to assess a Wilco show? That's like asking a cop to review a doughnut shop. "The sprinkles here are the best ever. The icing, creamy. The jelly filling? Drool-worthy." It was a fantastic first night of a three-night stint at the Wiltern. The songs were ace, the solos, some of the best ever, and Glenn Kotche's drumming? Drool-worthy. But then again, I'm a guy with a big record collection and grew up in the Midwest. I eat this stuff in one bite.
You may only care about the set list, though. Here it is:
Wilco (The Song)
Muzzle of Bees
Shot in the Arm
At Least That's What You Said
Bull Black Nova
You Are My Face
I Am Trying to Break Your Heart
In a Future Age
Shouldn't Be Ashamed
You Never Know
Hate It Here
I'm the Man Who Loves You
The Late Greats
Boxful of Letters
Red Eyed & Blue
I Got You (At the End of the Century)
Wilco are a six piece band that moves from being a three-guitar, bass, keyboard, percussion onslaught of wailing solos and vast depths of noise, to a subtle, gentle, melodic two-keyboard, acoustic and electric guitar band who crafts melodies so sweet and lyrics so smart that sometimes it's hard to get a grasp on which one they are. But what's best about the band is how they jump from sweetness to fury, how around every eight or sixteen bars is a little four-bar surprise, and how between these little bars are so many gorgeous and striking accouterments that each moment of sound is thick and rich.
You can talk all you want about dueling guitarists Jeff Tweedy and Nels Cline, a team that's become as insanely surprising and thrilling as Richard Lloyd and Tom Verlaine of Television (indeed, Cline quoted the solo in Television's classic "Marquee Moon" during "Handshake Drugs). Yes, both wank on the guitars. They solo like freaks. They tangle feedback loops and distortion to create beauty, each of the 476 guitars the two changed over the course of the night spilling its own sound. But let's give the drummer some. Specifically, Glenn Kotche, whose work behind his kit is so surprisingly unorthodox and spot-on that sometimes it's hard to keep track of what exactly he is doing back there -- other than making each Wilco song about five times more propulsive and nuanced that it otherwise would be. Which is to take nothing away from Tweedy's songs; it's just that a great drummer like Kotche can provide a springy bed for everyone else to jump upon, while a boring basskick/snare/high-hat hack can only offer a rusty bedspring.
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Wilco's new songs from the forthcoming Wilco (The Album) fit right in; the band certainly isn't straying too far from the sound it's created over the past few albums, which is okay by me. It's not like I want them to start offering disco remixes of their songs or anything (though Diplo could do wonders to "Bull Black Nova"), but sometimes bands get stale, and start to get into a rut. That's never happened with Wilco, maybe because when Tweedy spots an upcoming rut, he usually swaps out band members who steer him in an interesting new direction. That certainly has been the case with Wilco, Mach II (or Mach III?). They seem to just keep getting better live.
Anyone got an extra doughnut they can spare? I'm still hungry.