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So Wilco

I'm hard pressed to describe exactly what it is about Wilco that I love so much, why it is that I drove 200 miles by myself to see them. They're not promoting any new material. I've seen them fairly recently. San Antonio is a little outside my comfort level for a one day trip that doesn't involve airplanes.

But it's Wilco. The second I saw the schedule come out a few months ago, I knew I'd be doing this.

My sister Olivia was a huge Uncle Tupelo fan in the 90s, and when that group split into Wilco and Son Volt, she followed both fairly faithfully. I knew the music because we lived together for awhile, but I wasn't the devotee that I am now. Uncle Tupelo was much more alt-country than the Wilco of today, but if you listen to AM, you can hear the Uncle Tupelo roots. I heard the evolution of Wilco and I liked it a lot, but I think it wasn't really until Yankee Hotel Foxtrot that I really began to appreciate Wilco to the point of traveling for a show.

A lot of it stems from my abandoning commercial radio around the turn of the century. I was a faithful listener to KLOL up until it was bought out by Clear Channel, and when I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, I found a few radio stations that I liked, but none that grabbed me. I realized that most of my musical tastes were formed by the radio stations, and for awhile, that sustained me. But now, the radio stations were playing crap, so I started seeking out music on my own. I listened to alternative and college radio. I started looking for stuff on the internet. I'd check out the "similar artists" feature on Allmusic.com on the pages of bands I liked. I started surfing the lineups of the various music festivals out there. I'd check out the labels that produced artists that I liked. I'd talk about music with friends of mine that had similar tastes. Liv and I started a pretty intense music discussion.

Yankee Hotel Foxtrot almost never happened. Wilco has never been a commercially successful group as far as the labels are concerned. They do not really release singles. And when they recorded Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Warner insisted that it become more "commercially viable." The band instead spent $50,000 to buy back the master tapes and left the label. There were also internal problems with the band, and ultimately the lead guitarist left. Through all of this, though Wilco then released one of the most critically acclaimed albums of 2002. I knew about the album's rocky start from various news reports and leaks on the internet plus the documentary film on the band that was being filmed at the time. I bought it the day it came out, and YHF solidified my love for this band. This album sort of represented my switch from being happy with what commercial radio had to offer to my rejection of it almost entirely. Plus, it's one of the best albums I've ever heard.

I saw Wilco for the first time at ACL in 2004, and they were performing songs from YHF and 2004's A Ghost is Born. If the album for Yankee Hotel Foxtrot made me buy and listen to the rest of their albums in heavy rotation, the ACL performance made me a lifelong fan. I went to every Wilco concert I could since then. I'm riveted for the entire performance and barely notice anything else going on around me.

I got to San Antonio at around 7:30 on Friday night, and I found the venue with little problem. I managed to get in, and wiggle my way up to the front, stage left, maybe three rows back. And I waited. The opening band was a group out of Nashville called the Altered Statesman. I'm trying to decide whether I liked them or not. I suspect that I do, but they were very, very mellow. It was sort of bluesy, and there were a lot of Love Gone Wrong themes to the lyrics. I found myself sort of in a sort of hypnotized state from time to time listening to them. They played for about 45 minutes or so, and seemed gracious enough to be opening for Wilco.

During the soundcheck, a sixteen year old kid and his girlfriend had wiggled his way in front of me, and the people standing next to me were unimpressed with their unearned presence. I was unimpressed with his putting his shorter girlfriend behind him. She proved not to really be a Wilco fan, which irritated me at various points throughout the concert, but not nearly as much as his total and complete inattention to her. He didn't even seem that into the music. The people next to me were from Austin, and some of them had trekked to Ft. Worth the night before to see the only other Texas show in this tour. They deserved the spot, IMHO. At any rate, after ridiculing the kids for awhile, the group around me started to chat and we all became fast friends.

Wilco hit the stage at around 9:15 or so, and they hit running. The concert was very heavy A Ghost is Born, Being There and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Some songs from Billy Bragg projects even made it in there.

Here's the setlist:

1. Hell Is Chrome
2. A Shot In The Arm
3. Handshake Drugs
4. new song (Impossible Germany)
5. I Am Trying To Break Your Heart
6. Muzzle Of Bees
7. Company In My Back
8. Sunken Treasure
9. Forget The Flowers
10. Airline To Heaven
11. At Least That's What You Said
12. Jesus, Etc.
13. Walken
14. Theologians
15. I'm The Man Who Loves You

Encore 1:
16. Hummingbird
17. California Stars
18. War On War
19. The Late Greats

Encore 2:
20. Misunderstood
21. Heavy Metal Drummer
22. new song (Let's Not Get Carried Away)
23. Kingpin

By the time of "Shot in the Arm," I was fully into the show and singing along and dancing and totally into the whole experience. I found myself, from time to time, grinning like an idiot. You know there are moments in your life where you actually acknowledge that you're feeling very happy? This show was a series of those moments.

I really think that the lyrics of the "The Late Greats" encompass why I love Wilco so much, especially the last verse:
The best song will never get sung
The best life never leaves your lungs
So good, you won't ever know
I never hear it on the radio
Can't hear it on the radio
It's not my favorite Wilco song (that honor goes to "Jesus, etc.", and it's on the top ten of favorite songs of all time), but I love it a lot.

At the end of the show, around 11:30, they played "Kingpin" from Being There. In that song, people tend to insert their own city in the lyric "Living in Pekin". "Austin" or "Houston" in particular fit well into that lyric. Jeff Tweedy must have heard a lot of Austins yelled out, because he stopped and asked the crowd how many people were from Austin. About half the hands flew up. Dallas? Maybe an eighth. Houston? Me and twenty other people. San Antonio? I think Dallas had them beat. Waco? Three. El Paso? Six. Midland? Two. This is the kind of band that people, including me, have no problem driving to go see. Tweedy said we were the loudest crowd on this tour.

Wilco is playing in Washington, DC on Thursday night at the 9:30 Club. For the last six months, year or so, NPR has had a series of webcasts from that club, and they'll be featuring the Wilco show this week. If you're a long time fan, or if you've first heard of them from this post, give them a listen. They're amazing, and they make me happy.



( 1 comment — Say something )
Oct. 19th, 2006 04:50 pm (UTC)
It was such a great concert - I wish I'd given you my cell phone number - I didn't realize you were going all by your lonesome - didn't care for the warm-up band much - but what a great concert! It was pretty funny when he gave grief to the guy standing with his back to the stage. Austin beat San Antonio by a mile - hope he doesn't skip our town next time around. I hope he plays the majestic next time around.
( 1 comment — Say something )