Wilco enlighten Atlanta with The Whole Love

Live review: Wilco with Nick Lowe at the Cobb Energy Centre in Atlanta, 9/29/11

After initially being pegged as a “country rock” band, Wilco has shed that skin over the past few years. Critics hail the band as “The American Radiohead.” With the release of The Whole Love (dBpm), it’s clearly time to reconsider this and begin saying, “Radiohead is the English Wilco” (listen to the lead-off track “Art Of Almost” and you’ll understand).

The Chicago group, headed up by Jeff Tweedy, has once again released a critically acclaimed and commercially successful album. The first single, “I Might,” is more pop than usual, with a sixties organ keeping it happy. Wilco kicked off the Atlanta show with “One Sunday Morning,” a beautiful song, despite it’s twelve-minute length. As he played the Rickenbacker and sang those songs, Tweedy exceeded his annual quota on smiles. Dude was having a good time. And how could he not be? Looking at all that talent surrounding him: the indomitable Nels Cline shredding the guitar, bassist John Stirratt, drummer Glenn Kotchke and multi-instrumentalists Pat Sansone and Mikael Jorgenson. It was a master class on rock.

“We’d like to announce a special guest we’ve had on stage this evening. Nels is playing Duane Allman’s guitar. He is borrowing it for the night,” Tweedy announced. “This is like using Picasso’s brush or Noah’s hammer.” One could argue that it’s like Monet borrowing Picasso’s brush. The band played most of the excellent new Whole Love, seamlessly weaving in these songs with classics from such albums as Sky Blue Sky, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Being There and Wilco (the Album).

More than once, Tweedy mentioned how much better this second night crowd was than the previous group. Of course, this is standard operating procedure for a band to announce and will always garner cheers and applause. However, it was somehow believable, especially when he said, “They were just weird.” For sure the energy level was turned up to 11 during this second show, as several fans who attended both shows attested. At times, the crowd’s voices far outblasted those of the band, which can be a blessing and a curse for an artist (It’s reassuring that everyone knows our lyrics, but shut up and let me sing). It’s a nice problem to have.

Wilco played for about 90 minutes before retiring backstage to wait for the inevitable encore. Then another seven songs and 30 minutes later, they called it a night. One downside was that Mr. Lowe had joined them in a couple songs during the previous night’s encore. Not tonight. He was probably halfway back to England when the lights came up.

It was a phenomenal performance and the venue’s superlative acoustics only added to the experience. Wilco continue on the Whole Love tour in the states, then jump over to Europe, than back to the U.S. They’ll wrap up in Chicago in mid-December. If you see one concert this year, make sure it’s Wilco.

Nick Lowe, a.k.a. “The Jesus of Cool,” proved why he’s the britpop/new wave god responsible for inspiring so many artists. His sound is at once folksy ballads and acoustic-style Clash. And a minimalist set it was from Mr. Lowe, accompanied only by his acoustic guitar and that voice. And that white head of hair held together with those black Buddy Holly glasses. But the songwriting is among the best. It was a treat hearing his 1979 hit “Cruel To Be Kind” in such a setting.

Lowe performed several cuts from his new release The Old Magic (Yep Roc Records). His songs continue to be an amalgam of witty storytelling and deep thinking. Always a winning combination. Lowe surely felt the love in the room as fans roared between songs. Though there was no “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding” or “I Knew The Bride (When She Used To Rock And Roll)” it was a moving performance and made this two-for-one bill priceless. “All Men Are Liars,” “What’s Shakin’ On The Hill,” “I Love The Sound Of Breaking Glass” and “The Beast In Me” more than satifsied hardcore Nick fans.

Wilco Set List

One Sunday Morning
Art Of Almost
I Might
Muzzle Of Bees
I Am Trying To Break Your Heart
One Wing
At Least That’s What You Said
Capital City
Jesus, Etc.
Born Alone
Box Full Of Letters
War On War
Standing O
Rising Red Lung
Impossible Germany
Dawned On Me
Shot In The Arm


Whole Love
California Stars
Hate It Here
Red-Eyed & Blue
I Got You
Outta Mind (Outta Sight)

10 shows you should have seen in 2010

The 2010 musical year in review was a rich one. It seemed to witness a huge leap for the indie music world, with more and more bands getting their sound out there via the Internet. No more fishing for big record label contracts. The 21st century technology has been kind to up-and-coming bands. Following are ten shows that you should have seen with a snippit from each review. Most of these acts are not considered radio staples, but probably should be. Go to the links for each concert to read my full review (shows are listed chronologically).

SPOON at the Tabernacle in Atlanta, 3/20/10 – “While Spoon has had their ups and downs, it seems as if they’re in for a future of ‘ups.’ On this night, Spoon was the tightest four-piece on the planet. Even with two encores, the band left fans wanting more.” http://http://www.examiner.com/music-in-atlanta/spoon-rock-the-tabernacle

THE RUBY SUNS at the Drunken Unicorn in Atlanta, 3/22/10 – “Touring in support of their third studio album, Fight Softly (Sub Pop), the Ruby Suns spun some foot-tapping songs combining indie rock with world beats. At times, all three members were banging on drums. But usually, the tunes were made up of two synths and a drummer. With danceable beats and McPhun’s smooth voice, it frequently seemed as if all these people were enjoying an 80s new wave performance…in Hawaii.” http://http://www.examiner.com/music-in-atlanta/ruby-suns-bring-the-tropics-to-atlanta

WILCO at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta, 3/26/10 – “As the evening progressed, the fans remained standing. The lush padding of the Fabulous Fox Theatre’s comfy seats was never utilized. The crowd stood the entire show (even much of the balcony). Tweedy recognized this and was impressed.” http://http://www.examiner.com/music-in-atlanta/wilco-the-experience

VAMPIRE WEEKEND at the Tabernacle in Atlanta, 4/8/10 – “The band opened the show with the heavily-Paul Simon-influenced ‘White Sky’ from Contra. Next up was the ultra-manic ‘Holiday.’ The crowd, already whipped into a seemingly uncontrollable frenzy, would not stop moving and jumping and singing until show’s end.” http://http://www.examiner.com/music-in-atlanta/vampire-weekend-live-atlanta

ARCADE FIRE at Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre in Alpharetta, 8/11/10 – “Audience participation was mind-blowing and that only made for a better show. Win Butler and company have made a fantastic new record, and fortunately for us, know how to play it live. The show ended with Arcade Fire’s signature song from their first album. ‘Wake Up’ is one of those anthems that is instantly hummable and never forgettable. What a way to end the night.” http://http://www.examiner.com/music-in-atlanta/arcade-fire-and-spoon-burn-up-alpharetta

ORYX + CRAKE at the EARL in Atlanta, 8/28/10 – “If you’ve heard the CD by now (and you should have heard it by now), you’ll know that these are nine of the most talented musicians around. And live versions of the nine songs performed came out a bit edgier than those recorded. It was clear that the members of Oryx + Crake were pumped. Audience fervor is the only thing that overshadowed the band members’ enthusiam. It was a full house of an appreciative and supportive crowd.” http://http://www.examiner.com/music-in-atlanta/oryx-crake-have-arrived

CROWDED HOUSE at the House of Blues in Chicago, 9/5/10 – “The second song was ‘Mean To Me,’ from their 1986 debut album. This rocked even harder, with Finn’s voice as perfect – if not better – than it ever was. And he is one of the most underrated and superbly skilled guitar players out there. Of course, his songwriting is the only thing that surpasses his voice and guitar work. He is frequently compared to Lennon and McCartney for a very good reason.” http://http://www.examiner.com/music-in-atlanta/genius-of-crowded-house-proven-yet-again

JAMES at the Variety Playhouse in Atlanta, 9/22/10 – “During ‘Say Something,’ Booth traversed his way through the audience, shaking hands and walking down a row of seats across the armrests. At song’s end, he was quite a distance from the stage, yelling to bandmates, ‘What’s the next song? What’s the next song!’ Then, the opening chords of ‘Laid’ began to a roaring crowd. He hastily made his way back to the stage and brought the house down with this excellent song.” http://http://www.examiner.com/music-in-atlanta/james-return-to-atlanta-and-feel-the-love

PAVEMENT at the Tabernacle in Atlanta, 9/26/10 – “While Pavement never had a #1 hit, ‘Cut Your Hair’ and ‘Gold Soundz’ may have been close, as far as fans are concerned. Malkmus comes across reminiscent of a Stop Making Sense era David Byrne, with his quirky mannerisms and jumpy moves. He does, however, put everything he’s got into his performance.” http://http://www.examiner.com/music-in-atlanta/pavement-burn-through-atlanta-on-reunion-tour

LCD SOUNDSYSTEM at the Tabernacle in Atlanta, 10/4/10 – “One more decibal plus one more jumping fan would have seen the crowd plummet to the basement. Murphy, with all his youthful exuberance (he’s a very young 40) and high octane energy, was exhausted at song’s end, doubling over with hands on knees and huffing like a chain smoker. The fans felt the same way. And the show was off to a smashing start.” http://http://www.examiner.com/music-in-atlanta/lcd-soundsystem-show-everyone-else-how-a-live-show-is-done

The new year of 2011 has some big shoes to fill. Better get started.

117. WILCO, 3/26/10

Venue: The Fabulous Fox Theatre, Atlanta
Support: None needed
In the Company of: Peter & Shazia

Wilco (The Experience)

The Wilco experience is something to anticipate and savor. Jeff Tweedy leads a group of musicians who are dedicated to making excellent music. From back in his Uncle Tupelo days, Tweedy has weaved his craft, balancing alt-country with alt-rock on the high wire of everything in between. Touring in support of their latest album, Wilco (The Album), the band played an inspired two hour and fifty minute set at the sold-out Fabulous Fox Theatre in Atlanta.

As the lights dimmed, fans heard a robotic voice discussing “What we don’t want you to do” (pictures, video) and “What we do want you to do” (audio recording, sing along, song requests). Shortly afterward, on came the Price is Right theme song and Wilco took to the stage to screaming fans. The band began the evening with – what else – “Wilco (The Song)” (“Are you under the impression / This isn’t your life / Do you dabble in depression / Is someone twisting a knife in your back / Are you being attacked / Oh, this is a fact that you need to know oh, oh, oh, oh / Wilco, Wilco, Wilco will love you baby”). Between notes as the song ended, that robotic voice introduced each member of the band.

“Passenger Side” tells the story of riding with someone less than sober (“Hey, wake up, your eyes weren’t open wide / For the last couple of miles you’ve been swerving from side to side / You’re gonna make me spill my beer if you don’t learn how to steer”).

Before the beautiful “Jesus, Etc.” was performed, Tweedy asked the audience to sing along. Then he said, “Why don’t you just sing it on your own?” So, the crowd of Wilco fans sang every word as if they had been rehearsing for this. It was a glorious sound. Afterward, he exclaimed, “That was really good…that was exceptional…that was ground breaking!” The band went on to dedicate another song to the future wife of their drum tech (she was in the audience). “I could have done it tonight,” Tweedy said, “because I’m an ordained minister.”

As the evening progressed, the fans remained standing. The lush padding of the Fabulous Fox Theatre’s comfy seats was never utilized. The Crowd stood the entire show (even much of the balcony). Tweedy recognized this and was impressed.

After they said their thank yous and goodnights, there was one encore. “This is for Alex Chilton,” Tweedy announced, and proceeded to play Big Stars’ “Thank You, Friends.” Most of the band took a shot at singing a verse or two, to honor the late Chilton. There was no opening band, as no one else could really live up to this night.

Set List:
Wilco (The Song)
I Am Trying to Break Your Heart
Bull Black Nova
You Are My Face
One Wing
A Shot in the Arm
Side with the Seeds
Deeper Down
Wishful Thinking
Impossible Germany
California Stars
Poor Place

Acoustic Set:
Spiders (Kidsmoke)
Far, Far Away
You and I
Laminated Cat
War on War
Hesitating Beauty
Casino Queen
Passenger Side

Airline to Heaven
Via Chicago
Handshake Drugs
You Never Know
Heavy Metal Drummer
Can’t Stand It
Jesus, Etc.
Hate It Here
I’m the Man Who Loves You
I’m a Wheel

Thank You, Friends