Jeff's Shoes Photo by Brian DeWitt
“I’ve always felt like the best stuff within anything I’ve made has been the stuff that I didn’t intend to be there, that I look at and say, how did that happen? That’s the stuff that makes it worthwhile to me. Because if you could imagine it, why do it? Why take the journey?” –Jeff Tweedy
Jeff Tweedy Photo by Brian DeWitt
As we approached the Fox Theatre in Downtown Atlanta, I overheard a girl say,”Wilco is so consistently great it doesn’t matter what album they’re promoting or even if they’re promoting one.” Having never been to a Wilco concert before and owning none of their records, they had a lot to live up to. I spend so much time listening to new artists to feature on The Highway Girl that it’s rare for me to listen to what’s popular. I’d been hearing such raves about Wilco for so many years that I felt I was going to be disappointed by them live. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve heard the hits and I really like them, but I didn’t have a deep attachment.
Until now. Wilco took the stage as a rock band. The entire place jumped to its feet and stayed there. I was completely taken aback because I’ve had this image of them as sort of an alt country, indie roots kind of band and they blew that notion right out of the water. They owned the stage much like Radiohead, with balls to the wall energy and the kind of confidence that only comes with playing sold out shows (yes it was, btw). I was blown away and I wasn’t alone. It was apparent I was in the presence of musical greatness. Art was most definitely being created here.
As a singer songwriter myself, I learned a lot last night about how to craft a set list. As I mentioned, the band came out rocking and for at least 4-5 songs they kept the energy really high. I couldn’t take my eyes off of lead singer Jeff Tweedy, except I occasionally was forced to address the sheer brilliance that was coming out of guitarist Nels Cline, who I had forgotten played on a few records for Eleni Mandell (who we’ve featured a few times both solo and with The Living Sisters).
Nels Cline Photo by Brian DeWitt
The band did something incredible about half way through their three hour set. While the end of a song rang out for a minute, they brought out a second drum kit and set it up right in front of the other one creating a “stage inside a stage” effect that felt more intimate. It was genius! As an artist, I’m completely aware of how challenging it is to keep the audience energized while playing introspective, slower tempo songs. They nailed it and the audience still stayed on its feet despite the slower tempos. Nels sat down to play lap steel and bassist John Stirratt switched to upright. It was really magical.
Wilco flawlessly transitioned from rock to alt country and back again without losing intensity or focus. Jeff Tweedy also had a sense of humor when a photographer was nearly thrown out for continuing to take photos after the first three song limit imposed by the band. You can see why the band does it. A swarm of photographers were all over each other down front (one of them was our own Brian DeWitt) trying to get the ultimate shot. As Tweedy stated “We’ve got a show to do here.” The band gives out prizes to audience members by name during the show. At one point someone in the audience yelled out “Grindhouse burgers will buy everyone here a burger!” to which Tweedy replied “You’ll regret that.” After the next song Jeff said “I was just thinking… you better own that burger place!” The person responded that they did, but that we would need to present our tickets in order to get our free burger.
As a beautiful close to a wonderful evening, Jeff dedicated their one song encore to the late Alex Chilton of Big Star. On our way out we bought the Wilco book, a t-shirt and two baby onesies that read “Wilco Loves Your Baby.” Thanks Deb.