Sure, it might be unfair for me to write anything about Wilco, I’ve seen the band many times, and usually have some type of superlative to describe it. Well, this time will be no exception, though I do believe this particular show has set the bar higher in some degrees than I could have imagined. Lets just come right out and say it, the set was 3 hours long with no break, 37 songs were played, with an acoustic set in the middle. Seriously, top that….anyone?
The Wellmont is Bowery Presents newest venue, in the unlikely location of Montclair NJ. Home to Montclair State University, former home of the Bloomfield ave Cafe, and rumored home of Stephen Colbert. That really all I can say about this town, lets keep moving. My previous experience at this venue was to see Ray Lamontagne, a flawless musical performance, yet a mess of a crowd. Lots of Frat Dudes yelling out songs, general rudeness. But the sound….yeah, the room was built for that type of music. It looks like the Beacon Theater, but doesn’t sound all boomy and terrible. Wilco though in recent years has been primarily a blaring electric monster truck of fury, sometimes including an acoustic guitar, but not so much centered around it. So I was interested to see what would happen in this room.
They removed the seats from the orchestra, so it felt like a more traditional rock show, and Wilco pretty much had 6 bands worth of gear on the stage. It was mildly hilarious. 2 full keyboard rigs, probably 30 guitars on the wings of the stage, tons of amps, tables full of effects pedals, dream-theater-esque acrylic drum kit complete with a full orchestral gong, there was not much joking around. This tour it was announced there would be no opener, and was billed as “an evening with” so I guess they pulled out all the stops.
The show began with the microsoft computer voice giving instructions not to take photos, but to please exhibit general merriment. I really do wonder what this was about. Further in the show, Jeff Tweedy even called out some guy for taking pictures…I can understand sans flash, but they were completely anti-photography. Im guessing he’s feeling self conscious in his old age. Anyhoo, the computer voice made a reappearance, announcing each band member during the breakdown of “Wilco The Song” which confused and delighted pretty much everyone.
The set chugged along with the standard electric Wilco classics, lots of Sky Blue Sky, at one point Tweedy also called out someone for requesting “Impossible Germany” when giving out a free dinner…yeah, i don’t know, they gave out 2 free dinners. Anyway, he was all “way to waste a request dude, like we weren’t gonna play that one?” So it was standard electric fare. Midway through though, during a particularly noisy outro to “poor Places” The crew came out with an entire 2nd set of instruments, mini drum kit, 2 more keyboards, upright bass, new acoustic guitars, complete with old school living room style lamps, and set up as the band faded down. Without so much as a breath, they went into the most mentally refreshing version of “Spiders” I have ever heard. Occasionally when done electric, it gets a bit stale, with 14 minutes of noise rock jamming, it gets to be a little much. They changed some of the chords, toned it waaaaay down, and let the song itself come out. Several Bro Dudes behind me commented how it was a waste of a song…whatever, go see nickleback. Spiders was followed by “More Like The Moon” a buried gem from the Yankee Hotel Foxtrot outtake sessions which was never released. Let me just say, as fanatic as I am, there are a few songs I have never heard performed, and this was one. I think the whole crowd was in the same boat, you could hear a pin drop. I dont even know what to say, it was fucking beautiful. Lets just move on, Im getting too emotional. You just couldn’t stop this acoustic set. “Forget The Flowers”, followed by “Someday Some Morning Sometime” followed by a kick ass “Laminated Cat” as true to the original as possible, complete with the modular synth making some buzz type sounds. They closed it out with “Airline to Heaven” in the same fashion…the song started, the crew pulled off all the gear, and the band went into full on electric mode. Impressive.
There was no stopping this set, it just went on forever! I mean, I truly enjoyed every minute of it, but the friends I went with did not enjoy it so much. If you aren’t familiar with a band, you dont want to be repeatedly smacked in the face by them for 3 hours. 1 hour, sure, but 3 can get excessive. They took no set break either. What was that Phish? Yeah, thats what I thought. A friend also commented that Tweedy didn’t even take a sip of water the entire show, and I think this is true. He had some type of big denim jacket on, he just fucking blasted through every song. I’ve been trying to figure out the psychology behind this. They have fanatical fans who love everything they do, so it’s not like they have anything to prove, they’re a very widely respected independent band. All I can think of, is that they really just want to play a ton of music. If you were at their stage of career, wouldn’t you too? I mean, in an ideal world, where you’re not jaded by the industry or whatever, its just about playing every night, and I have endless respect for that. Its like in that documentary from last year “It Might Get Loud” with Jimmy Page and The Edge. Even at their age and level of success, particularly with Page, you could just see that he loved every minute of playing, like a kid. Is Wilco Led Zeppelin? Yes. Really? Sure, why not? Just deal with it already, ok? This is my blog, you’re going to have to go along with whatever shenanigans I pull here, its in the user agreement.