I last saw Wilco in 2009 and it was the best show I’ve ever seen. Apparently I didn’t blog about it but they absolutely blew me away. Some of this was my expectations: I don’t know if I’d listened to or watched any of their live stuff yet but, if I had, I still wasn’t really prepared. (I now have multiple live albums and have their concert film in my collection.)
One of the things that really worked for me in that 2009 show was the selection of songs. They had released six studio albums to that point, plus their two Billy Bragg collaborations, and I had heard at least 5 of their albums. The material they played came nearly entirely from those five albums I had heard, so I knew and liked all but one song they played. (I sat next to two guys who had only ever heard Sky Blue Sky, the album they were touring, and they were very surprised by the older material.) Sure, there were other reasons I loved the show – the noise, the surprise Buffalo Springfield cover – but liking all the material had a lot to do with it.
But, in the interim, they have released another six albums, only one of which I’m fond of. And so I was certainly concerned that the show would feature more music I didn’t like than stuff I did. I used to hate the “Play the hits!” crowd and now I find I’m one of them. We become what we hate.
We were slightly late to the show due to my poor planning, which is something I can say doesn’t normally happen to me. (The Ex opened the next morning and the grounds were a maze to navigate, for one thing.) So we showed up during “Handshake Drugs.” (We had decide to avoid the openers because a) I’d already seen one of them twice and b) they began playing at 6 while Wilco went on at 8:45. That’s too much time in a venue without constant music.)
They spent most of the show alternating tracks from their latest album, a double album, with older material. I was annoyed by the sheer amount of music from the new album – which I didn’t love – but I understand why they are playing it, it’s their new album after all. I was expecting more stuff from Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, which is sort of celebrating its 20th anniversary and seemed to be the reason for the tour before they announced their new album, but they only played three songs from it.
They played a bunch of stuff from A Ghost is Born, which I recently discovered might be my favourite album. (When I listened to their discography this week it was that one that I was happiest to listen to for the first time in ages.) This included a song I had requested, which made me very happy. Only one song from Summerteeth was a pretty big surprise, as was only one song from Sky Blue Sky. But they played a song from A.M. and two songs from Being There.
And I will say something for the new material: two songs they expanded greatly in their live versions and gave them a lot more energy than in the studio. (That whole record is pretty sedate.) And, to my great pleasure, they only played two songs from any of the albums they released between Sky Blue Sky and Cruel Country. (Unfortunately neither of them were from Star Wars, my favourite of those albums I don’t really like.)
The show lacked the surprise of the first time I saw them live, when I couldn’t believe how good they were but also couldn’t believe how loud they were. It wasn’t as loud of a show, both due to the new material and due to venue being outdoors. But, at their wildest and loudest, they were still shocking to anyone in the crowd who hadn’t seen them before. (During “Via Chicago,” most notably. If you don’t know what’s coming, well, it’s a surprise. As it was to a woman sitting near us.) Whenever you see a band for the second time, some of stuff repeats and it’s less fresh and new. That’s inevitable.
They played for nearly two hours, which I’m pretty sure is longer than the last time I saw them. And they touched on all the albums I like except one, while playing their new record. It was far from the best show I’ve ever seen but it was also a pretty great show, finding a nice balance between “the hits” and new material and featuring their usual excellent playing and a little bit of their avant garde tendencies (though not that much).
Happy we went.