Thanks to the thoughtfulness of a friend (many thanks, Chris), I was, in the end, able to go to Wilco last Thursday despite striking out resoundingly in my earlier efforts to secure a ticket. The show sold out in minutes, so naturally the house was packed with plenty of enthusiastic and apparently experienced fans. Chris and I caught a decent chunk of Melomane, the opening band, whose set ranged from ordinary to awful. Their last song in particular sported some of the worst, most heavy-handed “political” lyrics ever penned — “you’re a pacifist/but sometimes you get pissed,” and something about assassinating the president and killing the people on the Hill. Right.
All was forgiven once Nels Cline and company, I mean Jeff Tweedy and company, took the stage. They chose a peculiar song to open with, “Radio Cure,” but overall played a great set with a good amount of energy. They didn’t come close to matching the show of theirs I saw last year, but that was also a show on a long tour and the second of two nights they played in DC. Then, they played for two and a half hour with a ton of interaction between Tweedy and the crowd; this time around, Tweedy was relatively quiet and the band played for a still-considerable two hours. Also, then was the first time I ever heard Cline with the band, and I was just blown away by his stuff; this time around I knew what to expect.
Oddly enough, the highlight of the show for me was a new song (probably called “Impossible Germany”) about which Chris said, “sounds like The Allman Brothers” with a somewhat incredulous look on his face. This song featured a three-guitar jam that was just beautiful, and was so unexpected that I was grinning through the whole thing. It was also at this point that I really realized, as if I hadn’t known before, that I am a total Nels Cline fanboy. He played beautifully on this song and pretty much every other one as well, for the most part adopting a smooth, high tone over which he had complete control. Of course, he was also quite adept at making a shitload of noise, but that should be no surprise to anyone.
Good show then, although I just ran across this great live review at PopMatters that makes this one pale in comparison.
Also, I failed to report on the two shows I saw a few weeks ago at the same place (the 9:30 Club, which has most remarkably clean and clear sound quality of any dingy club I’ve ever been to): Yo La Tengo and Massive Attack. They were both excellent, and the former was close to transcendent. Ira Kaplan has to be one of the absolute best in the business at making, as Robert Fripp would say, “a lot of noise with one guitar,” sounding like he’s always almost about to completely lose control, but always bringing it back down to earth and making his noise sound melodic and beautiful (I’ll stop short of “accessible,” but it’s close). His guitar work really made the Yo La Tengo show a visceral experience — their rhythm section is rather staid and static, but that’s always been their style.
Massive Attack was a completely different experience, a sensual concert with an elaborate light show that at times made me feel like I was at a dance club rather than a rock club. The band had their full complement of guest vocalists on tour with them, which was awesome, and their slow beats, gradual buildups, repetitive themes, and oppressive sexual tension translated really well into the live environment. It didn’t hurt that the inevitable rock-outs at strategic points in each song were invariably headbang-worthy. In particular, they really make “Safe From Harm” — my favorite Massive Attack song already — into a tour de force, stretching it out into the ten-minute territory with a long, loud, cleansing jam.