Burlington's old Memorial Auditorium has rarely, if ever, heard music orchestrated with more ornate detail than that which Wilco played this early autumn night. And Jeff Tweedy, the band's revered leader, couldn't seem to stop, as the dynamic regular set gave way to two encores, the extended length of which reconfirmed what the medium-sized but enthusiastic audience had just heard. That is, Wilco is very well the best rock and roll band in America right now.
It doesn't demean Wilco to mention the most recognizable touchpoints of their music because Tweedy & Co, are all their own men (read Learning How to Die or see the DVD I Am Trying to Break Your Heart for further proof). The sing-song quality of the opening "Handshake Drugs" gave way to a harsh electronic ambience that later in the set was utilized to string together tunes such as ""I'm The Man Who Loves You" and "I'm Always in Love" in such a way as to create something of a dream-sequence. The boyish vulnerability Jeff reveals in most of his songs recalls to Neil Young, but no more than the torrential feedback interludes that recall that rock icon's work with his favorite band Crazy Horse (the sound of which guitarist Nels Cline reveled in).
And like Young & the Horse, Tweedy & Wilco rock with a vengeance on "I'm A Wheel" and "The Late Greats," the impact made all the more lethal by the delicate interludes during which the leadman plays acoustic guitar. The excellent house sound allowed all the textures of the six-man band to come through: acoustic piano, percussion and all manner of electronic keyboards (by Mikael Jorgenson and Pat Sansone), while the stereo panorama, as well as the stage alignment, not to mention the frequent eye contact amongst all the musicians, couldn't help but bring to mind The Band: with modern technology in their hands, Wilco interact as instinctively as that quintet and with the same sort of natural, but no less remarkable, camaraderie, using pure sound to underscore the somewhat abstract nature of Jeff's lyrics on songs such as "Muzzle of Bees" (not to mention the cryptic images flashed on the video screen throughout the set.)
That collective sense of purposenot to mention the infectious enthusiasm of all members of the group who seem to enjoy themselves as much as their leaderis the source of the atmosphere Wilco's able to create on stage as tangibly as they do in their recording sessions. It's altogether remarkable that live renditions from their two masterpieces, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and a ghost is born , such as "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart" and "Spiders (Kidsmoke)," offer a comparable depth to their studio counterparts: you couldn't help but think of the Beatles when Tweedy sang "Hummingbird" and wish they'd been as brave as Wilco to take their music out into the world.
Appropriately, Jeff Tweedy introduced the last song of the two-hour set as "Be Not So Fearful," deliberately placing it in a political context as a follow-up to his other trenchant but tongue-in-cheek remarks about the presidential debate occurring simultaneous to this concert. If anyone missed the point of numbers played earlier, such as "Christ for President" and "War on War," by concluding with this quiet flourish, Jeff authoritatively made the point he and his band are definitely of the world and not the insular victims of his introspection. It was one of the most provocative moments of a remarkable impressive, truly inspiring evening.
Visit Wilco on the web at www.wilcoweb.com .
Nels Cline: Intrepid Guitarist
a ghost is born