Shepherd's Bush Empire, LondonFor a while now Wilco have been the final frontier when it comes to live music. In the last few years many of the greats have been ticked off my list and tonight the final pillar was going to fall. Wilco certainly didn't disappoint. You could divide this gig into two distinct sections - before Jeff Tweedy addressed the crowd and after. Ploughing through 3 choice cuts from the new album and some Wilco classics including I Am Trying To Break Your Heart it seemed Tweedy was here to do a professional job and get the hell out of there. Then the surprisingly charismatic frontman decided to include us in their fun and the whole night took off. And after that it went pretty much as I'd expected, which is good - as I expected nothing short of greatness.
Wilco have never been the kind of band to come out punching with soaring anthems or fancy pyrotechnics so it wasn't until mid-way through that their brilliance fully seeps in and you stand there totally porous to their genius. That's when songs like At Least That's What You Said, Hummingbird and A Shot In The Arm envelop you in their warmth and you are forever changed. Glen Kotche's drumming was, as expected, the back bone to this stunning performance, and new signing Nels Kline frequently took new tracks like Impossible Germany and the beautiful You Are My Face to dazzling heights as he frantically throttled the neck of his guitar. But it was the awesome rendition of the epic Spiders (Kidsmoke) that totally stole the show and took it stellar. I have always considered A Ghost Is Born to be Wilco's finest and this reinforced my opinion. During the 10 minute marathon of climbing guitars, heavy drumming and swirling sound effects this band became something else. This song alone puts them in their own category and though Sky Blue Sky sees them opting for time out of this category for a while their place will always be guaranteed. It was a pleasure to be in the company of this band and its music.
BC - 4 Stars
As a powerhouse band Wilco seem to be getting better and better, with some great contributions from the new boys coming up through the ranks, and notably the Clapton-suited summer signing Nels Cline up front proving some major firepower. Jeff Tweedy holds his own in a guitar duel however, of which there were plenty - mostly more full on and rocking than I could have ever anticipated.
In a live setting the quiet/loud formula of many of the tracks was more apparent - even on many pre A Ghost Is Born numbers, and certainly on beefed up renditions of some of the Sky Blue Sky highlights, such as Side With The Seeds. Many of the more low-key songs like Poor Places and Via Chicago were given a fleshed out majesty by the full band that made them sound better than ever with the finer details or the effects, keyboards and backing vocals more richly presented. Surprisingly the big stand out for me was Woody Guthries Airline to Heaven, which found the band firing on all 6 cylinders to magical effect.... and there was even room for an extra Nels Cline solo.
After the crowd got into the swing of it, Tweedy lightened up and things really picked up getting better and better. This is a man I never thought I would see doing the running man, but there you go. With two extended encores it seemed like we were in Wilco heaven, and with the introduction of Bill Fay for a rendition of his Be Not So Fearful we were provided with a touching tribute to some of the bands roots and influences. Fantastic.
CSF - 4.5 Stars
just to add to the dedicated tweedy-watchers above. for some reason i had them filed in the wrong side side of my alt country factfile for years, have to say i'm glad we've put in the conversion hours at chimp towers to get me up to speed. have only really got round to absorbing the last two albums, but enjoyed everything they played. totally concur on Spiders (Kidsmoke) being the stand-out moment - love those loooong jams where everything cruises and then explodes. Impossible Germany had a great solo to finish it off, loved the freak-out stuff on Via Chicago and that last Bill Fay track was a very sweet closer. never really noticed the beatles influence on the wilco sound before, suddenly felt like i was watching a kind of US indie version of Wings (a good thing in my book). great playing from the whole band, and good to hear a band rocking out without just turning up the amps to 11.
brought 3 other newbies w me; all walked out converts which leads me to award a pretty conclusive...
4 Stars - c71
22nd May 2007 - Tumblr4.5
Camber Sands Holiday Centre, Sussex
Roots & Crowns
Royal Festival Hall, London
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