posted on April 21, 2007 21:44
It happened halfway through last Wilco's first ever headlining gig in Sydney last night . The band were ripping through Walken from their imminent release, Sky Blue Sky. I was sat by the sound desk, in a leg brace - long story. My good friend Fergal, enjoying his virgin Wilco experience, turned to me and took a Robbie-Robertson-a-la-Last-Waltz stance, wide-legged, jerking back and forth, guitar swinging from side to side. I looked back to the stage and realised just how much Jeff Tweedy resembled the former Band front man. Right down to the ear to ear grin. Yep, this was not the grumpy Jeff I'd experienced in the past - this was a happy Jeff. Jeff, the raconteur, taking the piss out of Steak 'n' Kidney (Sydney) and describing Tasmania as "the two-headed state".
The music was just as joyous. Encompassing songs from all of their albums, the gig hit some extraordinary heights. Misunderstood was HUGE, the audience yelling "Nothing!" with the band over and over and over again. Set closer, the ever avant-garde Spiders, showcased the dualling guitars of Tweedy and lead guitarist, Nels Cline. This was a continuing motif of the night - Tweedy's guitar was dirty, messy, strangled and Cline's was bright, exact, soaring. Together they made a truly compelling sound - the three minute guitar salvo at the end of At Least That's What You Said was a hair-raising highlight. California Stars from their still wonderful Billy Bragg collaboration Mermaid Avenue was as littingly lovely as ever. Theologians, Jesus etc and Hummingbird were expertly despatched. Drums, guitar, piano, perfect vocal harmonies. Wilco could really be the Band of our time. There were glimpses of Dylan, Bowie, the Stones and the Band, of course, but Tweedy has morphed this alt-country collective into something that is so much more.
Such a celebratory concert doesn't quite dispel all my doubts about the new album though. The set featured five songs from Sky Blue Sky, due out at the end of May, and I'm not sure I could argue that lack of familiarity is the reason none stood out as highlights. Hate It Here, introduced by Tweedy as the "Domestic Song", talks of domestic bliss, of missing a loved one when he or she is not home. It's soulful, beautifully sung by Tweedy, but it lacks the bite and challenge of previous Wilco classics. Sky Blue Sky sounds settled, comfortable. Whilst I suspect this respresents where Tweedy is with his life right now, it means the record is all too easy to absorb.
The band tour Europe in May (though I notice that Dublin doesn't seem to be on the current itinerary). They play two shows in the Shepherd's Bush Empire (the best music venue in the world, in my humble opinion) - an exhilarating night is guaranteed.
A webcast of the gig is here.More ...