Special thanks to guest contributor and loyal HGH follower, Tito Forrest for the review below.
A few weeks ago, I went to one of the Wilco shows at the Pabst Theater in Milwaukee. On the ride up from Chicago, my brother, his friend, and his friend’s friend talked about the past Wilco shows they’d been to. They’d all seen Wilco at least seven times apiece. My brother’s friend’s friend had seen them more than a dozen times, if you count the handful of Jeff Tweedy solo shows he caught at the Fillmore in San Francisco. This was my first Wilco show, so it was something of a loss of virginity. Extending the sexual metaphor, we all agreed that the best way to approach a concert by one of your favorite bands is to practice a little tantra—i.e., delayed gratification, depriving yourself of listening to their music in the three weeks leading up to the show—to heighten your enjoyment of seeing them live. I hadn’t listened to Wilco in a couple months. So I was going to lose my Wilco virginity. Furthermore, I was going to do it tantra-style.
The show didn’t disappoint. In fact, it was the best concert I’ve been to since I saw Pavement at Dillo Day when I was sixteen. The venue was perfect. The Pabst is what hack reviewers (like me) call intimate. The upper balcony gives you the impression that you’re suspended directly above the stage, which, if I hadn’t been ideally drunk, would have induced panic.
Wilco didn’t play any new stuff. It was kind of a greatest-hits concert (see the set list below). Which was fine with me. They played my favorite song. Of course, one of the immutable laws of concert-going is the band always plays your favorite song as soon as you’ve left your seat to go piss. I was standing in line for the bathroom when I heard the opening acoustic guitar from “War on War.” “I’ll piss when I’m dead,” I said to the guys in line with me, quickly grabbed a beer (ninth or tenth), and returned to my seat, catching the back half of that tremendous tune. “War on War” and the other twenty-two songs they performed ranged from merely very good to fucking terrific.
Part of the fun of a Wilco show is watching Nels Cline. His sartorial taste tends to the tight and bright: his Christmas-red drainpipe highwaters elicited several comments from the crowd, and at one point they stopped the music so he could do a Zoolander-style, Brunoesque, Right-Said-Fred runway walk. His guitar-playing is pretty amazing: his hand moves with the blurry rapidity of an electric fan. Like a hummingbird. Also impressive was Pat Sansone, the band’s utility infielder, who played keyboards, guitar, and (if drunken memory serves) some sort of wind instrument, at different points of the show. Jeff Tweedy sung and played well throughout, and charmed the local crowd by wearing a Brewers cap during the encores. He also conspicuously declined to wear the Cubs hat someone had thrown on stage. (My brother and I—White Sox fans—loved that as much as the Wisconsinites around us did.) My only disappointment with the show is they didn’t play “Theologians.” The highpoint was the finale: “I’m a Wheel.” What a fucking great song that is.
One more thing: the music from “Sky Blue Sky” sounds much better in concert than on CD, and hearing songs like “Impossible Germany” performed live deepened my appreciation of the CD. Grading on their bullshit Wilco curve, Pitchfork gave “Sky Blue Sky” only a 5.2. But what do you expect from the people who gave music a 6.8?
The set list, with a few gaps:
1. Hell Is Chrome
2. Company in My Back
3. At Least That’s What You Said
4. [something from Mermaid Avenue]
5. You Are My Face
6. She’s a Jar
7. [Didn’t catch this one]
8. Handshake Drugs
9. War on War
10. I am Trying to Break Your Heart
11. Jesus, Etc.
12. Impossible Germany
13. Forget the Flowers
14. I Am the Man Who Loves You
16. Remember Me
17. Shot in the Arm
18. Hate It Here
19. Box Full of Letters
20. The Late Greats
21. Red-Eyed and Blue
22. Casino Queen
23. I’m a Wheel
Thanks again, Tito. It sounds like it was a good show.
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