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.
You Are My Face
I Am Trying To Break Your Heart
Pot Kettle Black
War on War
Side With The Seeds
A Shot in the Arm
Sky Blue Sky
Too Far Apart
Hate It Here
I’m The Man Who Loves You
Airline to Heaven
Hesitating Beauty (with Bill Frisell on electric guitar)
California Stars (with Bill Frisell on electric guitar)