When it was announced that Wilco would play two nights in Milwaukee to open their 2009 tour, excited doesn’t even begin describe the feelings that flooded my veins. To add to that indescribable elation, the magnificent and intimately small Pabst Theater would play host.
Now to some there might need to be some sort of decision to be made. Which night works best? Which night will they be more likely to “bring it”? Those questions and possible others never crossed my mind. It was a no brainer. I wouldn’t even need to ask permission for this one. It’s Wilco. It’s Milwaukee. It’s the Pabst Theater. It’s my destiny.
Words to live by: If a band that you like is coming to town for multiple nights, you go EVERY night. The sets will be different, the crowd will be different, and most importantly, the energy will be different. I mean, who really wants to hear that the show that they didn’t go to was a way bigger shit kicker than the one that they did go to? Or that some rarity that has seldom been played, was, and will be now locked in the memories of those fans and those fans only because it will never be played again after that night. These are all instances that are based on “what ifs”. And in these economic times, I’m sure that it’s hard to spend hard earned money on “what ifs”. But if you’re me, you take the chance.
I’ll spare you the long story about the difficulty of getting tickets and all that, ((if you want to know, leave a comment and I’ll respond) psssh)) but we managed to get both nights and we couldn’t wait. My friends and I went to our usual pre game eatery, Comet, for $1 Old Styles, soups, and sandwiches. Anticipation mounted as the swill settled.
Without going into a song-by-song, show by show analysis, I would have to say that both nights were quite lovely. The first song of the tour was “The Wilco Song”, which a friend and I discussed as coming into its own, after being thought of as somewhat of a parody after being played on The Colbert Report. The energy that filled the theater on Tuesday was unrelenting. Normally a sit down venue, the people were up and getting down for the entire evening.
As has been reported elsewhere, the material for both nights relied heavily on YHF and AGIB material, which never disappoints. If files from these shows surface, look for outstanding takes on “Jesus, Etc.” and “Ashes of American Flags,” from night one and both from Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. These songs that are standard in the setlist, were played slightly differently and with tinges of greatness. A consistent complaint that I have about “Jesus, Etc.” is that, when played live it fails to contain the beauty that it does on record. Often hurried through and standard, the first night performance was garnished with some of the prettiest and layered lap steel that whined perfectly in line with Tweed’s vocals. While Nels Cline has helmed the sacred instrument for probably every rendition of the song since joining the band, this particular version was tear jerking. Same goes for “Ashes…” The song was played perfectly (every song was) but they added an extended outro to accent one of my favorite tracks off of that album. It was fully of heavenly effects and voiceless emotion. On this particular evening in April, Wilco’s reputation for being labeled the American Radiohead was not quite dead nuts, but extremely visible.
Other highlights for night one were “Box Full of Letters,” “Via Chicago,” an inspired version of “Kingpin,” Nels Cline killing the crowd with his crazyily possessed guitar playing (think Joe Cocker with a guitar) and lead singer Jeff Tweedy sporting a Milwaukee Brewers hat for the encore.
Night two, great as it was, was a lot more standard to this guy. I’m sure people liked night two better, but in my opinion it lacked the energy of the first. The setlist had a few repeats that were played with less gusto but the songs they didn’t play night one were great. Highlights for night two: Waiting outside the Pabst Theater to possibly be pictured on the cover of the new Wilco record, selling both of my extra tickets, “Hell is Chrome,” “Company in my Back,” “Misunderstood,” “Forget the Flowers,” “Red Eyed and Blue,” “I Got You,” “Casino Queen,” and being in bed by midnight. While there may be more song highlights from this night, the energy was turned down a couple of notches.
It was amazing that Milwaukeeans got to see them two nights in a row as Milwaukee hasn’t always been a tour destination for a lot of bands. However, with the great things that the folks over at The Pabst Theater are putting together, we’ve had some fantastic multiple night runs and tour openers. I’d like to especially thank them for bringing great music to a hungry community. Your work does not go unnoticed. I’ll be spending three nights with them again this week, (Ray Lamontagne, M Ward, Neko Case). We are surely blessed to have them around.