There was a telling comment made by Jeff Tweedy about midway through Wilco’s stunning two-hour set this past Tuesday at Seattle’s Paramount Theatre, that perhaps best summed up the entire evening. Nels Cline had just finished up a particularly spellbinding solo on “Impossible Germany,” when Tweedy turned to the guitarist and quipped, “you keep that up, and you might just become the 81st best guitarist in the world.”
The comment was meant in humor of course, but he also made an excellent point.
Although Wilco is often thought of as being Jeff Tweedy’s band — and rightfully so, since he is their primary singer, songwriter and overall creative mastermind — it was Cline who provided most of the musical fireworks on this night. On songs like “Impossible Germany,” “Bull Black Nova” and “Art Of Almost,” the virtuoso guitarist didn’t so much play his instrument, as he did attack it.
But watching the way that Cline bashes away at the strings to create those glorious washes of cacophonous noise that he does, is just one of the things that makes Wilco such a great live band.
If “One Sunday Morning” (from their great 2011 album The Whole Love) seemed like an uncharacteristically quiet choice to open a big rock show with, it also provided the rest of the boys in the band their own chance to shine. The pristine acoustics of the Paramount served Wilco particularly well here, as they were able to recreate the delicate layers of the album version perfectly, right down to the more subtle keyboard flourishes of Mikael Jorgenson and Pat Sansone.
Bassist (and co-founder) John Stirratt was another standout throughout the night, providing both the thunderous bottom layer anchoring songs like “I Might” and “Bull Black Nova,” and contrasting the lighter shades of “One Sunday Morning” with deeper tones that resonated beautifully throughout the entire building. In addition to providing the big beat which served as the kickstarter for Cline’s guitar pyrotechnics on “Art Of Almost” and “Bull Black Nova,” drummer Glenn Kotche also played a variety of bells, chimes and other percussive instruments.
As a frontman, the best word you could use to describe Jeff Tweedy is “relaxed.” As layered with musical complexities as Wilco’s music can be, Tweedy just radiates warmth and comfort onstage. He can also be quite funny.
Although the crowd at the Paramount skewed mostly older, this still didn’t stop many of them from reverting to their more youthfully rocking days, and showing their appreciation with a few choice yelps and shouts. When one of these “whoos” came during a quieter, somewhat misplaced moment, Tweedy joked “Maybe we should rewrite the rules of rock concerts — instead of shouting “whoo!,” maybe you could just say “you know, I really enjoyed the way you played that song.”
As expected, Wilco performed several songs from The Whole Love (some of which had aired on an episode of the excellent PBS concert series Austin City Limits just a week prior). But the well balanced set also dipped deep into the band’s back catalog, including both oft-played songs like “A Shot In The Arm” and “Heavy Metal Drummer,” as well as rarely heard tracks from earlier albums like Wilco A.M. and Summerteeth.
The show also had noticeably higher production values than past Wilco visits to Seattle. The elaborate, but elegant staging included sophisticated lighting effects and films projected against a backdrop of what looked like torn rags hanging off the ceiling.
One Sunday Morning (Song For Jane Smiley’s Boyfriend)
Art of Almost
Bull Black Nova
Company In My Back
Shouldn’t Be Ashamed
Heavy Metal Drummer
I’m The Man Who Loves You
Dawned On Me
A Shot In The Arm
War On War
Red Eyed and Blue
I Got You