Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Wilco--Riviera Theater, Chicago, Illinois (Days 1-5)

(As you may know, we already hit upon Wilco's five-day residency at the Riviera but thought this was just too major of an event for just one post. Luckily for us, Jen had a five-day pass and was kind enough to detail what she saw...or didn't see.*)

Since I heard Wilco was playing five nights of shows in Chicago--their adopted home maybe, but I will argue to the death it is not where they are from--I have been planning my attendance. It took three attempts at pre-sale contests and an incredible amount of adrenaline to secure my five-night passes, and required a few postponements at work to be available when the presales began, but I did it! Tickets in hand, plane ticket from DC to Chicago printed out, and suitcase in tow, I'm heading to see Wilco!!!

Night #1

I am old. No. Strike that. I am old enough to know that seats are for sitting. Especially at concerts. The floor is for those idiot college co-eds that drink too much and have only heard three songs off the most recent album of whoever they're seeing. Unfortunately, I think there were a few too many of said Wilco novices at Friday night's show. The floor of the Riv was packed and the security people upstairs couldn't keep people from crowding into every unoccupied inch of the aisles and stairs. Note on the venue: The Riv is a beautiful old building that is all the more awesome for its peeling paint, dreary lighting, and uncomfortable seats.

Greg Kot outlines the whole setlist, so I won't do a rundown for you (I am notoriously bad at identifying at a moment's notice song titles anyway, even for awesome bands). Besides, he does it better justice than I could.

The number of songs from Sky Blue Sky seemed to play well to the folks in front of me, who enjoyed the few tunes they knew, and then proceeded to turn around, while standing, and chat with their friends through many of the subsequent songs. Those of us behind them, then, were left to envision Jeff Tweedy, to create him in our minds while we bopped and nodded and tapped our feet to the music.

I was happy enough to enjoy my favorite Wilco tunes on Friday night, despite the less than savory company I was surrounded by: "Jesus, etc." (which I hear was better and more energized on Saturday night--yes, they doubled up and maybe even tripled up), "Impossible Germany", and "At Least That's What You Said". And Jeff Tweedy looked absolutely giddy to be getting started on this five-night deal and happy to be up on stage. The entire band--including the horn section that joined them on stage numerous times--looked like they were having a good time, which is a sight to see from a group of guys who have come and gone, added and subtracted members. There is no such thing as phoning it in this week.

I will say this: The crowd as I looked around was an amazing mix of hipsters, yuppies, 55-year-old men and their wives, twenty-somethings that had their teenage years defined by this music, and of course that handful of people just looking for something to make them cool. Seeing a bunch of guys my dad's age bang their fist along with the screaming electric guitars is pretty sweet.

Night #2 and Beyond

Alas, I had to make a difficult decision on Saturday night: Enjoy night 2 of 5 of Wilco or trade my lone ticket for Cards/Cubs tickets at Wrigley on my birthday? I went with the baseball game. I'd like to think those tickets will be at least as hard to come by. My companion and I had been debating special guests, so I was near a heart attack when I was woken up by his phone call after the Saturday show with "It was pretty much the same as the night before until Jay Farrar come on." WHA?!?! Of course, if you've heard anything about the show, you know that Jay Farrar was not the special guest. Instead it was Andrew Bird. Cool, not as cool as an off-the-cuff Uncle Tupelo reunion.

Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday shows were hard to recap. I had to manage a very tight get up/squeeze in work/drive an hour from Indiana/enjoy Wilco/drive an hour to Indiana/collapse in bed/rinse/repeat schedule. But I kept my fingers crossed for a specialest of special guests.

Rollin' In and Out of Chicago

Have I mentioned that Wilco is at the top of their game? I saw them for four of the five nights and--although I did plead to myself "Please don't play 'Impossible Germany' again" at least twice on Wednesday night--it was an incredible series of shows. I thoroughly agree with my companion that Jeff Tweedy's voice sounded better during this Winter Residency than it ever has on the band's records.

Monday night was a mellow show, many, many songs from the early albums that I didn't know as well. But the energy in the auditorium was electric as the old-time fans were able to enjoy so much of the music that has shaped their lives while at the same time, nascent fans were getting an in-depth schooling of our generation's most defining music.

Tuesday night's show was broadcast on XRT, the hip local Chicago radio station that gave Wilco it earliest support. It definitely affected the sound and the setlist. The music was tinny--too much treble, not enough bass. Radio induced sound effects? The setlist was a greatest hits of sorts. To give all those kids out in radio land what they couldn't pay $100 for. Nevertheless, the show hit all the right notes, with Nels Cline rocking like there is no tomorrow in his short pants and Glenn Kotche banging out beats as if no one else was on stage.

The final night was a relatively short 2.5 hour show. Yeah, we only got to hear 14.5 hours of Wilco, not 15 hours. Boo. It was a different kind of show, this Wednesday night show. Tweedy's voice was raspy, and he did blame his wife for making him mess up the words to "Box Full of Letters"--all in good fun, mind you--but the whole place was jubilant. Tweedy chatted with the crowd, didn't scold anyone. And he promised to come back next year. Promised. Seems there are lots of special guests, reunions, jam sessions, and covers to be celebrated.

I am, I think, concerted out for a little while. But I have stored all my ticket stubs and plan on keeping them handy so I can show house guests--yes, I was there for the first Winter Residency, yes I was.

--Jen Maceyko

*Apparently Jen believes Cubs vs. Cardinals in the summertime trumps Wilco. Or at least trumps 20% of Wilco. While, we here at NQL love and appreciate Wilco, we stand by Jen's decision.


Alex said...

I'm assuming you think St. Louis is the natural home for Wilco. While I love the gateway (go Cardinals!) I have to disagree and let me use this ananolgy: Abraham Lincoln was born in Kentucky (in a small log cabin), moved with his family to Indiana before finally setting up shop in Illinois. Whenever anyone asks where Lincoln is from the answer almost comes back "Illinois!" (hence, "Land of Lincoln"). This is largely because he did his entire body of work in Illinois. Since Honest Abe is a pretty good standard let's look at the Wilco situation in light of it. Outside of A.M. (and c'mon, does that really count?) they're records are Chicago products. Ask someone where Wilco is from and the answer will always come back "Chicago!". How Sufjan Stevens missed this I have no idea. But Wilco is a Chicago band. Uncle Tupelo was a St. Louis band (well, Bellville, IL, actually).

Blake F. Ecksnow said...

C'mon, Wilco is clearly a St. Louis band! Don't you see the Arch in their bumper stickers?

Also, don't you love the area of St. Louis where the buildings in the cover of YHF was shot?

Blake F. Ecksnow said...

I also loved all the footage of Missouri in "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart." Surely a classic that everybody in St. Louis owns.

Alex said...

And let's not forget the songs in their catalog that reference St. Louis. Those that quickly come to mind are "Via St. Louis" and "When You Wake Up Feeling Like Ozzie Smith".

Brian said...

Further complicating matters, I have it on good authority (my own) that 'Shot In the Arm' is an ode to the great McGwire/Sosa home run race of '98.

Alex said...

Not to move off the Stl topic but I want to tell a quick story from the show I was at (Day 4). They had been playing for nearly three hours and took their bows after railing against pointless and insincere encores. I thought for sure the show was over. The band left, the lights came on and they started playing music on the system. And by music, I mean "Peaches" by the Presidents of the United States of America. I don't think I had heard that song for ten years. Everyone went crazy. Jumping around, singing, etc. This guy in front of us had been quiet, almost seemingly annoyed, throughout the show but when that song came on he was having the time of his life. I was too. Audrey took a quick video of me singing and going crazy. Well, this got the crowd into a frenzy and began cheering and sure enough the lights went out and Wilco came back out and played "The Late Greats" and then left for real. This is one of my favorite Wilco songs and I'm convinced it was only played because "Peaches" proceeded it. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go buy that song on iTunes so I can inevitably hate it again in six days.

The Dong Machine said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Blake F. Ecksnow said...

FYI: P.U.S.A. has a greatest hits album coming out in March.

The Dong Machine said...

Last time I saw Wilco there was some guy grasping his knees rocking back and forth, singing at the top of his lungs and gesturing, on the outskirts of the crowd, who, from a distance, I was making fun of. I found out after closer inspection, that this was actually one of my friends that I came with...HOW EMBARRASSING!!!!

bigshoulders said...

Hi There,
I was fortunate to be there for all 5 nights of the Residency. It'll go down as one of the musical highlights of my life, no doubt.

Have you heard any of the boots from these nights? The energy from the band, and the crowd too for that matter, is palpable. I am so glad I threw caution to the wind, ditched work for a week, and joined all the other "polar bears" outside the Riv for these shows.

Thanks for your post-- it's been sweet to read others' accounts of the Winter Residency.


JHitts said...

Yes, Chicagoans, but remember, the lyric in their best song ever isn't "I sincerely miss those heavy metal bands/ We used to go see on Navy Pier in the summer".

And the song is entitled, "Casino Queen", not... well, it isn't about all those shity casinos you have to go to all the way to Indiana to see.

Just sayin'.

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