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Wilco spins arena rock on its head

Agganis Arena
Boston, Massachusetts


Arena rock is an ugly, ugly term. Images of Styx, Bon Jovi and REO Speedwagon race through my head at the
mere thought. Arena rock was something that was nearly killed off in the late ’70s by the likes of the Ramones,
Dead Boys and the Clash, but refused to die even through the ’80s and ’90s. It’s band singers with bad guitars
and bad hair playing bad songs through bad sound systems for two-to-three hours.

Wilco has never and will never be any of those awful things listed above. They’re a vital, creative band who use
space and sound as their personal playgrounds. They make intimate connections in claustrophobic venues and
let their walls of sound bounce off of ceilings back onto the audience’s collective head. They are as far from rock
schlock as any one band can be.
Nels Cline, Jeffy Tweedy, John Stirratt and Pat Sansone, circa 2004
Airline to Heaven
I'm the Man Who Loves You
A Shot in the Arm
Hell is Chrome
Handshake Drugs
Company in my Back
I am Trying to Break your Heart
Heavy Metal Drummer
Muzzle of Bees
At Least That's What You Said
Jesus, Etc.
I'm Always in Love
Sunken Treasure
Spiders (Kidsmoke)
First encore:
War on War
The Late Greats
Second encore:
I'm a Wheel
Outtasite (Outta Mind)
I Shall be Released
That said, Jeff Tweedy still must’ve had posters of Robert Plant and Paul
Stanley up in his room, so if he and his band feels like trying their hand on
an arena stage, then they’ve earned it. Thankfully, it worked.

Nearly filling up the 7,200 capacity in Agganis Arena at Boston University,
Wilco pulled out all the stops for a crowd made up of 90 percent fanatics.
My Morning Jacket did a damn good job opening — their tight, creative
jams set an excellent tone for the rest of the show, and they were well
received by an audience in near-full attendance, a true rarity for any warm-
up act.

Wilco took the stage relatively quickly, and without much fanfare launched
right into “Airline to Heaven,” which seemed to catch the crowd off-guard.
The sweet, rolling tune set to Woody Guthrie’s words made for a nice
mood, but it was quickly thrown away with the fuzz-guitar start of “I’m the
Man who Loves You.” The big, booming chorus filled up the hockey rink
perfectly and had everyone bouncing. This was a rock show, and Wilco
wanted everyone to know it.

The band was in a good mood throughout, with Tweedy especially chatty.
Before “At Least That’s What You Said,” he gave a brief synopsis of the

“This is a song about one of those nights where a couple is sitting on the
bed, and the guy has been getting sort of beat up by the girl, and it’s not
going well and they probably won’t make it through the night without a
double homicide or suicide or something … I dunno, sing along…”
Cryptic sing-alongs aside, the band delivered in typically breathtaking fashion. Giant, seemingly out-of-nowhere
sound waves exploded out of “Hell is Chrome,” “Muzzle of Bees,” and, fittingly, “Spiders (Kidsmoke).” There is no
song in this band’s cannon better suited for live performance. Its ginormous chords and drums are just
massive, and watching guitarist Pat Sansone windmill and Tweedy leap in the air as they slam their strings are
worth anything that may be printed on the ticket. It’s off the wall, it’s fun, and it’s rock music at its absolute best.

It also left the crowd screaming for more, and Wilco seemed more than pleased to deliver it. The band opened
the first encore with “Misunderstood,” complete with the noisy, crashing intro and an extended “NOTHING!

Tweedy, obviously enjoying himself, let loose on the crowd for “Kingpin.” Before the line “Living in — Pekin,” there
was a pause, followed by Tweedy singing “Boston,” as well as a scolding for the crowd.

“Look, if the city ends in EN or IN or ON, I’m saying the name of the city," Tweedy said. “It’s rock tradition.” A
second attempt found the crowd saying “Boston” too early.

“Ok, better, but next time in

For the second encore, Tweedy came decked out in a BU hockey jersey, compete with TWEEDY and the number
8 on the back. “I found this in the locker room,” Tweedy cheerfully explained. “Wanna fight?”

“I’m a Wheel” and “Outtasite (Outta Mind)” drove the crowd batty, and, after nearly two and a half hours, it was
time to go. The Dylan-penned classic “I Shall Be Released” was beautiful, sending the crowd back up the aisles
and off to their late-night bar and food stops with an easy mind.

In the end, it’s not the arenas that make terrible bands — it’s terrible bands that make arena shows terrible. Put
Creed in the Staples Center or the Wiltern Theater in Los Angeles and they’ll be terrible no matter what.

Wilco can’t be terrible — they don’t have it in them. Arena, theater, club or festival, Wilco plays like no one else
today. Their records are breathtaking and their shows are flashes of brilliance strung together with energy and
more brilliance.

And, of course, they rock.

Check out Wilco at and My Morning Jacket at