I’m only six months late in reviewing this concert…but with good reason. I’ve been looking for the download of this show since I went and I finally broke down and downloaded two different software packages to make it downloadable and listenable. It was a task, but it was worth it.
Wilco made their long-awaited return to Birmingham in April after 4 long years. I was particularly excited for this show since it had been a really long time since I’d seen Wilco and they were playing at Sloss Furnaces, an old Iron Ore processing plant converted into a park and national monument. Pretty cool venue to see them in, as the concert section was in an open-air but covered huge hall. The gently sloping floor ensured that everyone packed into the place was afforded a great view and the fairly low roof provided good acoustics.
Wilco came out and started their set with the song Misunderstood. From there they moved rapidly, with almost no space between songs to Company In My Back, You Are My Face, I Am Trying To Break Your Heart, Kamera, Ashes of An American Flag, and At Least That’s What You Said. This set the tone for the entire show. They showcased music from their extensive back catalog, drawing from all of their previous albums for the night’s setlist. Musically, the band was fantastic and tight. They had a full and rich sound that moved together from rhythmic and uptempo to moody and experimental. Nels Cline, lead guitarist, and his extensive skills were on full display in numerous solos throughout the night and they were always greeted with raucous cheering.
Jeff Tweedy, the lead singer, offered his first greeting only after the seventh song, something that struck me as odd. He made a terrible joke about Birmingham
people being called Birminghamsters (which he apologized for later in the set and explained that he’d been in a slump with regards to talking to audiences) and made reference to the fact that the last time they were here they won a Grammy that night. He then introduced the song Hotel Arizona by saying that it was requested a lot on their website but that they rarely played it.
After Shot In The Arm, Tweedy experimented with a new look, putting on a hat and almost starting the song, then taking it off. He then launched into Jesus, Etc and finished that song by talking about the supposed haunting of Sloss. Some of the crew had drawn PacMan ghosts on towels and were waving them around, which added to the levity of the moment.
Later in the set, Tweedy again mentioned the requests on the website, but made fun of people texting/Twittering them during shows and how they might reach a place where people will request mid-concert. (My personal pet peeve at any show is people on their phones Twittering about how good the show is. If it is that good, then soak it in and enjoy it and stop Twittering about it…)
But the best moment of the entire show came during Handshake Drugs. A huge train came roaring by the venue and laid on it’s whistle, causing the entire band to stop and look together, along with the crowd going nuts. It was a surreal moment that came together so well it almost seemed scripted, but the surprised looks on the band’s faces told another story. They paused, looked around, and wordlessly resumed the song. This is clearly a band that is comfortable with one another.
The first set ended with the rowdy number Spiders (Kidsmoke) and after extended cheering the band came out for an encore. They played five more songs, ending with I’m The Man Who Loves You, which starts with an extended period of guitar feedback, during which the entire band (all seven of them) stood up on some sort of an amp or speaker or something, each holding their note for a moment until the entire band peaked and came crashing down towards the song, playing with full gusto.
They went off stage for a moment, and then came back for a second encore, the highlight of which was the song Hoodoo Voodoo, a jangling alt-country-rock number that was augmented by the presence of a shirtless crew member sporting a gnarly mustache, tight jeans, a cowbell, and dance moves that seemed to defy the logic of human motion. He danced all over the entire stage, shaking what his momma gave him and causing no small amount of cheering among the crowd and laughter amongst the band.
All in all, it was a great show by a band that is only getting better as they age, mature, and grow more secure in themselves. Their extensive use of their back catalog was an unexpected yet pleasant surprise. I would have loved to see some new stuff, as their album came out a month later, but that is my only regret. That, and the fact that Kristen had to go to California at the last minute and was not able to attend with me. I did buy her a t-shirt though.