Wilco — 5/2/11, Montgomery, AL (Montgomery Performing Arts Center [Theater])
I realize I’ve been seriously slacking on the commentary portion of this blog, and I intend to catch up recapping what turned out to be a busy April at some point, but for now, what better way to get back in the proverbial saddle than the first headlining Wilco show in a good long while.
Hard to believe it had been just over seven months since the last Wilco show and a little longer even since the band’s last performance on American soil. So naturally, the capital of Alabama — a place Jeff said the band had never played before — was as good a place as any for the first true show of the year. The theater of the Montgomery Performing Arts Center is, like many venues Wilco has played, in recent years, not necessarily designed for rock and roll. But as rooms of its type go, it was not a bad place. It had a balcony, but didn’t feel too cavernous. And inasmuch as I know about acoustics, it seemed pretty well balanced. (Of course, my seat left a little something to be desired, evidence that a front-row seat isn’t always the best. It was all the way over at stage left and offered only a partial view of the stage, but hey, at least I could stand without blocking anybody!)
Of course, the old standing-versus-sitting debate wouldn’t be a question on this night as most of the crowd on the floor level got up as soon as the band hit the stage and stayed standing most of the night. It was nice, from my vantage point, to even be able to see a lot of the crowd and watch their reactions. And it was also slightly amusing to watch an usher/security guard try to maintain a clear walkway between the stage and the front row as people kept inching closer and closer as the show went on.
One big question about this odd little week-long Southern tour was whether the band would play any new songs for the first time, and it remains to be seen because they haven’t yet. I imagine it’s a difficult decision in the age of YouTube for a band to debut new material because all it takes is one clip — quality or not — and suddenly people all over the world are passing judgement. I tend to agree with a friend who said she thought next month’s Solid Sound Festival would be a more likely setting for a full-band performance of a new song. Yet given a few more soundchecks on this run, which often function as mini-rehearsals for Wilco, who knows what might get played before it’s over? At the very least, my thought is they could probably try “I Might,” which has already been announced as the A-side to the 7″ single they will begin selling at Solid Sound, since it will be available for all to hear soon enough anyway.
As for what they did play in Montgomery, there wasn’t anything terribly out of the ordinary in the one-hour, 52-minute show. (It was on the shorter side for a Wilco gig, though I couldn’t tell if there was an 11 p.m. curfew or not and it certainly seemed possible that the band might play at least one more song.) I got the sense of still shaking off some rust from not playing together in a long time, like when Jeff looked over at John with an expression of ‘whew’ after nearly flubbing a lyric in “Handshake Drugs.”
There were a couple of odd quirks that I should point out, despite the fact that almost no one else would probably notice (or care). But Jeff played an acoustic guitar on “Pot Kettle Black,” which I hadn’t seen before, or at least for a long time. I think he usually plays a white Telecaster on that one, so the song lacked some of its usual oomph. And on the show-closing “Heavy Metal Drummer,” Pat remained at his front-line microphone with an electric guitar, which I don’t remember him usually doing for some reason. For guitar nerds, Jeff also played a sleek-looking white guitar (though I couldn’t make out the make or model) on “Spiders” that I haven’t seen him use before.
Speaking of “Spiders,” that was a definite highlight for me. I actually forgot some of the parts (the clapping before the final breakdown, etc.) after not hearing the full-band version in so long. The performance of the song surprised me with its power and hypnotic rhythm and, coming right out of “Misunderstood,” definitely ratcheted up the intensity of the show in a positive way.
Jeff didn’t say too much, other than to point out a gentleman in the front row who he said bore an uncanny resemblance to one of his cousins; I think he said Rusty, but I couldn’t hear clearly from where I was. Anyway, the older man — who I spotted before the show and thought to myself was definitely going to be called out by Jeff — had a fairly thick white beard and, forgive the stereotype, was dressed sort of like a biker. (It should also be said that I think the man was attending the show with his teenage son.) When Jeff pointed him out, the man got up from his seat and extended his hand and Jeff obliged by coming over and shaking it and thanking him for coming to the show. They exchanged a few more words and then the show continued. Wilco will love you, baby…I guess?
Here was the complete setlist, as played:
Ashes Of American Flags
Bull Black Nova
A Shot in the Arm
Pot Kettle Black
Airline To Heaven
I’m The Man Who Loves You
The Late Greats (started and restarted)
Heavy Metal Drummer
*Opening act: Smith Westerns