The last and first time I saw Wilco in concert I walked out. That’s right, walked right out the door on one of the best bands playing rock and roll today. This was just after A Ghost is Born came out, so it was well into all the hoopla over Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Frankly, at the time I wasn’t much of a fan; I had only heard the Being There album and attended the show more out of something to do than any real relationship to the band or their music.
They were playing a club way too small for them at the time. It was standing room only, and within a few songs into their set, the place was swelling. Everyone was jostling for position, pushing, squishing, and elbowing in every direction. It was more than my wife and our friend could take.
The final poke was from an enormous young man who was not only pushing for the front row, but talking obnoxiously loud on his cell phone right in front of us. My two companions moved way to the back of the small club. I moved to a friendly section of the crowd but knew my time was coming. After a few more songs I found my people and we decided to walk out. The band was good, but not knowing any songs and the rotten crowd overruled anything our ears were hearing.
Fast forward to last night, I have since become a convert to the Wilco idolatry religion, and am very excited to see them again. Hoping to finally rid myself of the stigma of having once walked out. This time the venue is much larger and more fitting to the band’s status. The IU Auditorium is a medium-sized auditorium with lots of seats and space.
The opening band was local and an odd mix of the Meat Puppets, “Space Oddity”-era David Bowie and Radiohead. They started promptly at 8:00 to a crowd at less than half-capacity.
Opening acts are an odd thing to me. They say they are there to get the crowd jazzed and loosened up, but the crowds I’ve seen are usually bored by an opener and keep looking at their watches hoping those fools will get off the stage so the headliners will appear. I guess it’s a good opportunity to hear bands you might not have heard before.
The opening band played a good 40-minute set. After a long 40-minute pause, Wilco finally took the stage at 9:20. The crowd, now at full capacity, gave the auditorium a good holler.
They opened with a rumbling version of “Airline to Heaven” followed by a scorching “Kingpen.”
The crowd was pretty tame. My section of the balcony was half-standing, half-still in their seats. Songs from Yankee Foxtrot Hotel got the biggest cheers of the night, but songs from all of their other albums got noticeably less participation in the sing-alongs.
Actually my realization for the night is that Wilco has very little in terms of sing-along lyrics. Sure, they have a few good belters such as the hillbilly bluegrass chanter “Forget the Flowers” and the nonsensicalness of “I’m a Wheel” is a hoot to scream a long with, but so much of their music has these sorts of odd tempos and changes that render any typical sing-along too difficult to enjoy.
They more than make up for this with the music. There are so many great hooks in their songs as to get lost in them trying to count. The quiet beginning of “At Least That’s What You Said” followed by the loud, pounding rhythm which is then followed by a louder, more pounding rhythm is a slice of pure rock and roll heaven.
More than once I reached the point of ecstasy where my body shook to the beat as only a white boy can, my eyes closed and my smile took over my whole person. Surely the sign of a great rock concert.
Lead singer/guitarist/primary song writer Jeff Tweedy goaded the audience by saying we were acting rather mild for an audience he had been pre-warned would be rowdy. This was the beginning of Little 500 week at Indiana University, the loudest, most party-rific week at a school which has often won the title of “#1 Party School.” The audience responded by jumping over the rails at the front row and cramming right up against the stage.
The band closed a second encore with “California Stars” and we walked out into the cool spring night under lovely Indiana ones.
1. “Airline To Heaven”
3. “Handshake Drugs”
4. “A Shot In The Arm”
5. “At Least That’s What You Said”
6. “Hell Is Chrome”
7. “Spiders (Kidsmoke)”
8. “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart”
9. “Forget The Flowers”
10. “War On War”
11. “Jesus, Etc.”
13. “The Good Part”
15. “Heavy Metal Drummer”
17. “I’m The Man Who Loves You”
19. “The Late Greats”
20. “I’m Always In Love”
21. “I’m A Wheel”
22. “California Stars”