Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Wilcome Home

Since my introduction to the band in 1999 with Summerteeth, and catching my first-ever show of them at the Blue Note that hot summer, I haven't missed a St. Louis showing of Wilco yet.

Last year was the first year that I wasn't afforded the option; as they opted to stop in Columbia for an open-air concert with Dr. Dog instead, and on a weeknight no less. Someone shared an audio copy online of the set with my fiance, which revived my interest in the new album.

To tell you the truth, even though Wilco is admittedly my favorite band of all time, I was very disappointed by A Ghost Is Born and completely disinterested in Sky Blue Sky. Seeing it for sale in a Chicago Starbucks and an "are you kidding me?" later, I'd pretty much written it off. On another road trip back from Chicago that spring, a friend started playing it in the car, but I drifted fast asleep in the backseat before "Either Way" was halfway through, before I knew that was the opening track's name.

The VW spots didn't bother me; in fact, they were what started to turn me around. I love my vee-Dub, so naturally it tickled me to hear my favorite band playing in the background of their cutesy new commercials. Especially since I hadn't heard the likes of "Walken" and "You Are My Face" as of yet.

It actually took my fiance, a vehement anti-fan of Wilco's, to get me into the new album. He bought it on iTunes and, after listening, commented that this new guitarist was pretty amazing.

New guitarist?

I've been out of the loop. Obviously.

It didn't take long before I knew the entire album by heart, even getting into the noodly tracks featured on Ghost and Sky that usually annoyed me.

In any event, when it was announced that Wilco would be playing not one but two shows at the Pageant, I was overjoyed. Thank goodness we're not going to have any of that Fox Theatre nonsense again. Great venue, but not right for the band. It was bizarre.

We nabbed tickets for the Friday show straight away, which is good because both nights sold out in under an hour of being posted; a day later, they announce a third date. Crazy.

Fortunately we got into the Halo Bar early enough to get a good spot on Nels' side of the stage (i.e. the "drinkin' side") by the time the doors opened. The energy in the house was amazing; I'm sure plenty of people there had tripped to Columbia last summer, but just as many in the crowd were suffering the same live Wilco withdrawals as myself, making for an electric feel to the air.

The opening band was fine, which is pretty good for a Wilco opening band. The only band I've seen open for Wilco that was worth a damn was Calexico, which was sadly during the dreaded Fox Theatre incident.

This group however, a Minnesota trio named Retribution Gospel Choir, gets first place for the biggest bait-and-switch name ever, but makes up for it with its many musical nods to that of its Twin Cities counterparts of yesteryear, Husker Du and The Replacements (and thankfully none to Soul Asylum). They came and went with polite cheers; until they announced they were playing their last song, which was met with thunderous applause.

Poor guys.

The setlist was the most diverse, fulfilling and extensive collection of Wilco songs I've ever heard live. I actually think I squealed with glee when Stirratt took the guitar and vocals for "It's Just That Simple." While the setlist was pretty Being There and Summerteeth heavy more than anything, you won't hear me complain. They played "Impossible Germany," "Walken," and "You Are My Face," so all was clever with me.

For the record, the list I've linked too is actually incorrect, as one other user commented beneath it, that was a third, solo-song encore of "The Late Greats". Which makes for another St. Louis first for me. I've never seen any more than 2 encores here, ever; not a one band. I'm very pleased that Wilco was my first.

I'm also fairly certain that I've never seen Wilco go on as long as they did that night.

Many long-time fans would pelt rocks at me for saying so, but Wilco finally has the talented lineup it needed to fully realize the epic rock band potential it's always had. I miss Jay Bennett's harmonies and compositions as much as the next fan, but Sky and this new tour is evidence his time was clearly appropriately spent. If Tweedy can manage to hang onto Nels, Patrick and Stirratt while still cranking out those beautiful lyrics; they'll never lose my faith again.

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