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Concert Review: Wilco At Marymoor Park, Seattle, WA 08/21/07

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I guess I should confess right upfront to being something of a Johnny-Come-Lately to the Wilco party. My introduction to Jeff Tweedy and company came at the behest of a friend who — knowing that my musical center lies somewhere inbetween the songwriting of people like Springsteen and Neil Young, and the more experimental fare of bands like Radiohead — urged me to check out the band live, and then make up my own mind.

Needless to say, I was pretty much instantly hooked.

What I discovered was that Wilco is one of those bands who are able to veer effortlessly between an alt-country sort of vibe and the more “out-there” sort of sonic explorations of albums like A Ghost Is Born and the epic Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. So given the overall quieter vibe of their recent Sky Blue Sky release, it was probably a fair expectation to think that this show, under the moonlit skies and overall gorgeous surroundings of Seattle’s Marymoor Park, would be a nice, mellow affair.

And it started out that way. The magnificent setting, combined with the gorgeous harmonies coming from the stage made for a most tranquil and mellow setting on the grass underneath the moonlight. The fact that the venue allowed you to take your beers to your seat on the grass (a most welcome new development at this venue) didn’t hurt the mood either.

But then, somebody decided to turn guitarist Nels Cline loose. And turn him way, way up as well. Beginning with the 4th song in the set, “Handshake Drugs,” Cline was literally on fire for this show. Although Jeff Tweedy didn’t talk all that much, he too clearly seemed to be enjoying the moments he allowed the new guitarist to shine.

The newer songs played from Sky Blue Sky, like “Walken” and “Side With The Seeds” sounded just fine in a live setting. But it was on the more sonically driven material from A Ghost Is Born and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot — songs where Cline’s guitarwork threatened to set these woods on fire at times — that it became apparent that this guitarist may just be the final missing piece that Wilco has needed all along to make this band one hundred percent complete. Cline fits these guys like a glove.

As if Cline didn’t provide enough additional guitar power, for the encores Wilco brought out Northwest jazz guitarist Bill Frisell, for surprise versions of “Hesitating Beauty” and “California Stars” from Wilco’s collaborative album with Billy Bragg, Mermaid Avenue. A second encore would find the two hour show closing with the sonic masterpiece “Spiders.”

All in all, this was a magnificent show — easily the best of the three Wilco concerts that I’ve seen — in a wonderfully picturesque setting. But on this night, it was definitely all about guitarist Nels Cline.

Setlist:

Sunken Treasure
You Are My Face
I Am Trying To Break Your Heart
Handshake Drugs
Pot Kettle Black
War on War
Side With The Seeds
A Shot in the Arm

Impossible Germany
Sky Blue Sky
Too Far Apart
Via Chicago
Jesus, etc.
Hate It Here
Walken
I’m The Man Who Loves You

1st Encore:
What Light
Airline to Heaven
Hesitating Beauty (with Bill Frisell on electric guitar)
California Stars (with Bill Frisell on electric guitar)
Hummingbird

2nd Encore:
Misunderstood
Spiders (Kidsmoke)

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About Glen Boyd

Glen Boyd is the author of Neil Young FAQ, released in May 2012 by Backbeat Books/Hal Leonard Publishing. He is a former BC Music Editor and current contributor, whose work has also appeared in SPIN, The Rocket, The Source and other publications. You can read more of Glen's work at The Rockologist, and at the official Neil Young FAQ site. Follow Glen on Twitter and on Facebook.
  • http://www.marksaleski.com Mark Saleski

    …for the encores Wilco brought out Northwest guitarist Bill Frisell, for…

    are you freaking kidding me??!!!

    good gawd…jackpot!!

  • http://daslob.blogspot.com/ Pico

    No kidding, Mark. Cline and Frisell could have done some really kick-butt whack-jazz freakouts for the second encore.

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    It was freaking guitar heaven Mark. Ya shoulda been there. When they brought out Frisell, I actually thought of you.

    -Glen

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Oh, and you too Pico — (thought of you that is).

    I don’t know if I’d call what they were doing “whack-jazz”, but it was definitely out there. You guys woulda loved this.

    -Glen

  • http://www.marksaleski.com Mark Saleski

    this is like the avant rock version of my Springsteen brings out Southside experience.

    so cool.

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Good as it was Mark, I’d almost trade you those two experiences were it possible.

    -Glen

  • http://www.marksaleski.com Mark Saleski

    funny, in some ways, the Southside show that i saw a few weeks back was more transcendent than that Bruce show from many years ago. i suppose i should write about that.

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Thats something I would love to read Mark. I’m sure others would too. Go for it.

    -Glen

  • http://www.lookoutforhope.com Tom Johnson

    As both a Frisell fan and a Wilco fan, oh, AND a Cline fan, it’s needless to say how jealous I am, Glen. Damn. No, I take that back: DAMN! I so hope they were recording this for future release.

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Tom,

    For someone who loves avant-guitar noise (with just the right touch of restraint), this was as close to heaven as it gets. And I bet if you did a thorough search, somebody out there caught it on tape. They just had to. Good luck!

    -Glen

  • Jason Welch

    Glen, good review and thanks for including the playlist as there were a few towards the end of night (Airline to Heaven, for example) that I couldn’t place.

    -j

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Thanx Jason. Always happy to be of service to my fellow Washingtonians.

    -Glen

  • http://www.vsplanet.com/cgi-bin/ubb/ultimatebb.cgi?ubb=get_topic;f=2;t=063899 Barry Warne

    I was lucky to see them the night before (August 20th) at the outdoor Malkin Bowl in Vancouver, Canada.

    After having grown up through a few punk gigs at the Smiling Buddha, and now aged with considerable bulk, easy now to hold my own against frail computer programmer guys and Yaletown water-bottle girls with Nana Mouskouri glasses. My elbows didn’t even bruise.

    I remember now why I love Malkin Bowl for gigs. Perhaps it was the stormy skies over Stanely Park. A moody backdrop with threatening weather only framed Wilco’s complex and brooding sound. I don’t think there is a better venue for live sound outside of the old PNE Gardens. Vancouver needs more outdoor concerts at the Malkin. Fall, Winter, summer. Picture a cold winter night with light snow falling, hot chocolate in hand and an intimate band playing. Tarps maybe when it rains.

    Great gig, great band that keeps chasing inspiration, which, when they find it keeps inspiring listeners as well as countless musicians and writers.

    Jeff Tweedy has conquered a lot of demons and is becoming a confident showman and much less reluctant frontman.
    He’s even having improvised fun conversations with the audience. While Tweedy interacts with the audience, bassist John Stirratt remains the grounding conduit that links Tweedy’s vocal to the rest of the musicians on stage. Which is a very underrated position in any band because everyone on stage turns to you when it seems the music is about to go off the rails. After 13 years together, Stirratt anticipates where Tweedy is going next.

    Guitarist Nels Cline is the element that was sorely missing for from Wilco for too long: blatant showmanship. He is one part manic showman, one part stunning craftsman. Not that the world needs more lead guitar players, but in Wilco’s case Cline holds the attention of the audience visually and drives the audience and band to new heights during moving and inventive guitar solos which effectively go over the top. He is the balancing musical foil to Tweedy’s earnest and searching delivery.

    Where Cline is most effective is in augmenting Jeff Tweedy’s guitar solos. Together they take a guitar solo, follow it along and develop lines to see where they can go. In the past, Tweedy’s guitar solos have sputtered and fallen apart due to self-consciousness. Now Cline takes Tweedy’s basic solo and keeps adding to it, each time taking cues and then building and building to effective crescendo and logical conclusion. When Pat Sansore jumps into the three-guitar mix the band truly soars and briefly echos the better moments of the Allman Brothers or Lynyrd Skynyrd. Then they move on quickly. Wilco is not a band that dwells anymore. They get to the point and move on.

    Pat Sansore also doubles on piano and adds solid stage presence when needed. Keyboardist Mikael Jorgensen stoically and studiously hold the back-line intact and allows the music to flow continuously without a hiccup. It’s dynamic drummer Glenn Kotche that ebbs and flows like a Newfoundland tide. Keeping the beat rock steady but then driving up the dynamics instantly in a wild-card flourish. The band is working together now as a great band does. Strongly cohesive with moments of outstanding, intense individual flash and solo flare.

    Wilco’s musicianship level is now very high and growing. Thoroughly seasoned musical maturity is reaching levels where technique disappears and pure audience communication begins. Overcoming “audience cool” is always a challenge for any performer, more so with the Wilco audience. From what I saw the audience was primarily 30-something professionals with extensive and appropriately eclectic CD collections and iPod Playlists. Well groomed with only one strategic and tasty tattoo. Somewhat previously bohemian and now studiously respectable. Quickly however, their cool facade was thwarted and they were wrapped up in the very powerful music while Tweedy lured them into the palm of his hand

  • live

    The guitar is exactly what was needed for the Wilco band. The guitar is like one of my favorite instruments. I saw a few clips from you tube and Cline was showing his tail off. If you ask me, the show was pretty nice. Does the band have any up-coming shows in the future?