Long live rock, I need it every night

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Wilco (The Review)*

w/ Conor Oberst and The Mystic River Band
July 8, 2009 at Wolftrap

by Senior Youth Correspondent, Andrew
Photos by BabyStew

This show was a pretty big deal. Wilco, one of the biggest names in recent rock music, headlines a sold out show at the 7,000 seat Wolftrap, a venue that rarely hosts acts that are of interest to the serious connoisseur of modern music and a venue that probably sells out once every couple of years. It was a beautiful July evening, Wilco had just released their sixth studio album Wilco (The Album) and Jeff Tweedy is 41. Oh, and in case that didn't impress you, Conor Oberst opened, and with a full backing band, jackass.

Here's the first thing I learned: Conor Oberst is very different live with his band than on his one record. I say one record because quite frankly I never went in for all the Bright Eyes malarkey, what with all the puppy face emo hair cut photos and hype that he was the next Bob Dylan before he was eighteen or whatever. That said, I thought Cape Canaveral was a solid album. His set last night was about half songs from that album and half songs that were either new or very alternate versions of older songs of his. Basically, if you saw the show last night without hearing his record you would think he was a straight up alt country rocker while in reality his record displays a much softer, intricate set of songs. I mean Conor was down there screaming and yelling about heartbreak and life on the road, elements that were refreshing after hearing nothing but self pitying whines from his Bright Eyes stuff. His band was tight and seemed just as into it as Conor was. In fact, one of the two other guitarists on stage sang two or three songs in the set. I thought Conor Oberst was still fairly young but it turns out he is 29. Funnily enough, a friend I ran into said she looked at the stage and thought she saw a twelve year old girl. Ouch. Thanks to her iPhone we found out he is 5'6. Despite his vertical challenges Conor Oberst and The Mystic River Band put on a very entertaining show and warmed the crowd up nicely for Wilco. My personal favorite was the spacey version of the song "Cape Canaveral" that got a great response from the folks in the cheap seats.

The rest of this review might really piss off some Wilco fans. But if you read Slice's post about Spoon, it's pretty clear that harassing hard core Wilco fans is a big part of what goes on here. Wilco fans will not be angered necessarily by my review, but by my lack of knowledge about Wilco. I'll be honest about my background: saw them at 930 last year (not impressed), know and like the song Jesus Etc., have an Uncle Tupelo record somewhere. That's it. But this way at least you don't have to read me gush about how amazing they were. Think of it as a critical analysis. Yeah.

Wilco opened with Wilco (The Song), which is actually a very neat tune except for maybe the part where they kept singing "Wilco, Wilco." I found that a bit precious. Shit got epic pretty soon after, with battling guitar feedback solos and finale-esque drums and bass during the third song. That's one of my gripes with Wilco. A little noisy feedback and directionless shredding is fine, but it seemed that more often that not a song would devolve into wails before it really had gone anywhere at all. No one can deny Wilco are seasoned performers. The attention to detail and professionalism in their set was clear from square one. They played Jesus Etc., it was awesome. Tweedy alternated between acoustic and electric guitar and was just sarcastic enough with the audience to keep it entertaining. Guitarist Nels Cline was amazing to watch and displayed his fastidious skills just as he had when I saw him last year. The crowd was going nuts from the beginning. Wilco has something of a cult following in that everyone had a similar look--plaid shirts, flip flops, etc--and that Wilco appeals to such a broad range of ages--they've been classified as "dad rock" as well as "college radio." Although nothing could ever come close to a Hold Steady concert, there was a certain bro element that was fairly pervasive at this show. There were groups of dudes (everywhere) sporting baseball caps, flips, frat shirts, you know, the usual man club garb. In fact, I was seated next to a singing bro, and in front of me I could see hordes of guys jumping, pounding each other on the back, and generally enjoying each other's company. Not my scene, but it's hard to blame Wilco for that one.

The thing is I am not a Wilco fan so while I can say they are good, it is unlikely I would ever give them an A+. The crowd however was going nuts the whole time, so my opinion is, at least in the context of the show, probably a minority one. I was only half serious about harassing Wilco fans. While I would take Spoon over Wilco any day of the week, they are undoubtedly a quality act and fun to watch. I left before the encore, so feel free to add and discuss below.

* yeah, we know the Wilco parenthetical thing has been overdone but it's the best we could come up with


Jimbromski said...

nice work, nice pix from steve as well

whenever we criticize these brah-type bands (see also My Morning Jacket, Drive By Truckers) we get grief, and by "grief" I mean one or two people calling us fuckwads, which is a high number of readers for this site

Jumbo Slice said...

The main difference between bands like Wilco, MMJ, DBT, Hold Steady, etc. is that Wilco has produced some truly great music stuff. The others don't rise to the same level.

Tough to blame a band for people that come to their shows. I have noticed that Wilco's tends to draw an odd mix of brahs and mushy couples. I'm curious to see the crowd for Spoon tomorrow night. Despite the name they aren't an upright spooning type band. Nonetheless at the last Spoon show in Austin I was next to a super annoying and grabby couple. It was extra unappealing b/c they were both fatties.

Anonymous said...

You guys are a bunch of fuckwads.

AndyfromDC said...

Anonymous said...

You guys are a bunch of fuckwads.

Nice! Add it to the tally.

hemisphire said...

I'm not a huge fan (last night was my 4th show of theirs), but I thought the mix of newer and older songs was pretty good, and it's hard for any band to play a bad show when the crowd receives them as loudly as the packed house did last night.

FYI, if you're not just yanking chains Wolf Trap sells out at least 5-6 shows per summer.

Steve said...

I'll disagree with you a bit on the comparison of Wilco to those other bands, JS... I think both the Hold Steady and DBT have great music. In fact, "Separation Sunday" and "The Dirty South" will almost certainly make my end-of-decade list. And while I don't think MMJ is quite up there, I still think "It Still Moves" is a fantastic album.

The real thing that ties these bands together, though, is their live show, and the fact that they are very guitar-heavy bands. So it lets those who are so inclined to show up with their best buds and high-five after each instance of guitar heroics do so.

I have this whole theory about how all of these bands you mentioned are essentially this generation's version of the 70s/80s arena rock bands. But I won't bore you with it.

Potsy said...

um, sacklunch was at this show too. Why have we not heard from him?

Anonymous said...

I heard Sacklunch was banned and therefore he can't log in to comment.

nostalgician said...

shit, jumbo slice is a hard ass. i pray for my band the day little js watches us play. ;)

speaking your mind though! i like it.

Jumbo Slice said...

Steve - Good point on the early Hold Steady albums. I'd still rank them slightly below Wilco's best but it's fair to say they're great albums. DBT albums are another matter. It's just not my type of music. Too Southern Rock for me (not that there's anything wrong with that). I haven't seen them live so maybe that would change my opinion of them.

Jimbromski said...

Sacklunch needs 2-4 weeks to collect his thoughts before he comments about a show he attended.

He did ask me to pass on this message to everyone in the meantime: "I, Sacklunch, love man-chum."

It's an odd thing to say, but he insisted that I quote him, verbatim.

Unknown said...

dildo (the sex toy)

Jimbromski said...

ronco (the gadget company)

Anonymous said...

Hint: Paragraph breaks. Use 'em.