Wilco rocks again in a rain-shortened set
By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK editor
There’s a certain comfort in seeing a band like Wilco live. In addition to already enjoying their catalogue and knowing that they’re more than capable of putting on a fantastic show, they don’t seem to take nights off. Another stop on a tour is never just another stop on a tour — it’s another test for the band, an opportunity to show what they’re made of and win over another crowd.
That and more was on display at Lowell’s LeLacheur Park, the home of the Boston Red Sox’ Class A affiliate, the Lowell Spinners. Wilco is in the middle of their minor league ballpark tour, which, apart from being a fun summer gimmick, shows anther understanding of the live music business. With just about any concert, atmosphere is 50 percent of the show. A band can play their asses off, really work the crowd and take their art to a new level. But if they’re doing it in a half-empty stadium or a decrepit theater, it will always lose its edge.
Hold a concert in a cute little park, though, complete with the band and crew “lineup” on the scoreboard? Instant atmosphere. And the ballpark parallels wouldn’t stop at the scoreboard, though, nor at frontman Jeff Tweedy’s paraphrasing of Lou Gehrig’s “luckiest man on the face of the earth” speech early on in the set. More on this in a bit.
Starting off with the rousing “Wilco (the song),” the band worked and laughed through a set that saw them draw from all their albums equally since Summerteeth. “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart” was manic and dynamic, while “At Least That’s What You Said” moved perfectly from the muted, understated first half into a wild coda, with guitarist Nels Cline shredding his Fender Jazzmaster. With those two songs, Wilco displayed their two sides perfectly — slow, quiet, introspective passages augmented with wild flurries of noise and aural trama. It’s a page stolen out of Sonic Youth’s playbook, sure, but you won’t hear any complaints about this from me.
Again, they were most definitely “on” this evening. They pulled out the rarely played “Nothing’severgonnastandinmywayagain,” which Tweedy joked would excite “as many as 12-15 of you.” The sheer beauty of “Impossible Germany” was on display, with Cline, Tweedy and Pat Sansone weaving their guitars together, building to eventual climax. And, of course, “Via Chicago,” perhaps the band’s most powerful song, generated a tremendous response from the audience. The studio version of this song is potent, but live, the band creates a cacophony of destructive sounds, with bells, crashes and feedback, only to stop on a dime, muting everything but Tweedy’s voice. It’s another example of the level on which they operate, which is to say, they’re not like you and me.
But, even with all this on parade, Nature is not one to be outdone.
The rain started to fall during “Spiders.” A few drops could be felt here and there, and shortly into “Hummingbird,” the downpour hit. The weather report had the rain arriving right around 10, and a quick glance at my watch revealed it was 10:15. Hey, sometimes they get it right.
In true baseball fashion (well, New England baseball, anyway), it became a race to fit in everything before the rain took over. The band ran through “Hummingbird” with their usual enthusiasm, and then sprinted off the stage so that the equipment could be saved. Monitors and keyboards were covered in tarps, as were Glenn Kotche’s drums. The band came back on, with a soaked Kotche kicking the tarp off his kit and standing up on it, arms in the air, in complete celebration of this weather calamity. They tore into “I’m the Man Who Loves You” as buckets were poured on the crowd, the stage, everything. It was too much. With a temporary rig like this, safety for the band, the audience and the equipment becomes a major concern, especially with lightning starting to make its presence felt. Plus, this is a professional teams’ outfield; the sheet metal flooring used to protect the grass could potentially ruin it, and a full re-sodding of center field probably isn’t in the Spinners’ budget.
So came a quick end to the show, their version of calling a game in the 7th inning. Tweedy made his exit with the quick apology of “OK, I think we have to stop now. Sorry.” But, these are the risks of doing a minor league ballpark tour, right? Was the encore cut short by as many as six or seven songs? Probably. But they were totally on for the first 18, made an attempt to play through the rain, couldn’t, and there’s nothing more that could be done.
And, in that way, Wilco once again gave their all live. I don’t ask for much at concerts, but I always demand that.
E-mail Nick Tavares at firstname.lastname@example.org
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