Wilco: A Dream Can Mean Anything

Cymbals crashed, the lights went blueWilco at Otto’s Niteclub

Dekalb, Illinois, May 19, 2004

In rush hour traffic on a weekday, Dekalb is two hours west of Chicago. It’s a nice little town where bouncers triple-check your ID, the televisions show both the Sox and the Cubs games, and the karaoke starts at 9:30pm. It’s also where freshly rehabilitated and reconstructed Wilco kicked off their tour to support their new album, A Ghost Is Born.


Glorious Noise had been there the last time Wilco toured on a yet-unreleased album with a newly changed lineup. Things weren’t so great at those first Yankee Hotel Foxtrot shows back in November, 2001. It takes a while for a new band to figure out how to play together, especially with a batch of new, complex material. So no one really knew how this “warm-up” show for Wilco’s current tour with two new band members was going to be.

We needn’t have worried.

From the moment they took the stage to the whining riff of “Ashes of American Flags,” this was a band who had their shit together. They sounded like they had been playing together for years. Guitarist Nels Cline knew exactly when to take control and when to step back and let Jeff Tweedy show off his newfound skills at lead guitar. Together, they tore shit up. In their most boisterous and indulgent instrumental passages, like at the end of “Muzzle of Bees,” they sounded like a noisy Grateful Dead. And that’s not an insult. I was not on drugs, yet at times I felt moved by the sheer ruckus of the sound to an almost transcendent place. They rocked.

Jeff and NelsThe set was heavy with new material. They played almost the entire new album, avoiding only “Spiders” and “Less Than You Think.” Summerteeth was represented by “She’s a Jar” while the Mermaid Avenue project and Being There were allowed two songs a piece. The rest of the set came from Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. This, of course, didn’t keep people from shouting out for “California Stars.” “That’s your shit,” responded Tweedy playfully before going into the Mermaid Avenue outtake, “When the Roses Bloom Again” and folllowing it with “One by One,” both of which featured nice lap steel augmentation from Cline.

The stuff from A Ghost Is Born painstakingly recreated the sound of the album. It’s a good sound, of course, but it’s always fun to see an artists take material somewhere new when you see them live. Like they did with the acosutic guitar-based version of “Reservations.” Downplaying the piano on this song gave it a whole new feel. And that’s great. If you want it to sound exactly like the record, stay home and listen to the record. Right?

Before the final encore, Tweedy thanked his fans for our support during his recent stint in rehab. “I had a rough time recently and you guys have been amazingly great.” A renowned music fan himself, Tweedy ended the evening with a tender rendition of Wilco’s ultimate ode to fandom, “The Lonely 1,” and we all knew he was singing through us, for us, and about us: “When you perform it’s so intense / When the critics pan I write in your defense / I understand I am just a fan / I’m just a fan.” And never has there been a band that understands the fan-star relationship better than Wilco.

Setlist:

Ashes of American Flags

Company in My Back

She’s a Jar

Hummingbird

At Least That’s What You Said

Hell Is Chrome

Jesus, etc.

Muzzle of Bees

Wishful Thinking

When the Roses Bloom Again

One by One

Poor Places

Reservations

I Am Trying to Break Your Heart

War on War

Encore:

Handshake Drugs

Theologians

I’m the Man Who Loves You

Sunken Treasure

Second Encore:

Late Greats

I’m a Wheel

The Lonely 1

Wilco is currently streaming A Ghost Is Born from their website. It’ll be officially released on June 22, 2004. If you’ve already downloaded it, you might consider a contribution to Just A Fan.

24 thoughts on “Wilco: A Dream Can Mean Anything”

  1. great review, Jake! really wish i could have been there with all of you guys. sounds like i’m in for some great shows on the rest of the tour though.

  2. Yeah, wish I could have been there too. I guess I will have to settle for the show in Pittsburgh. Oh well.

    P.S. For people who don’t know the Wilco fans’ charity, Just A Fan, broke $10,000 on Tuesday. Check it out.

  3. Nice review, Jake.

    Actually, I enjoy it when a band tries to recreate the sound of the record, at least for their first tour with it. I guess I’m interested in seeing how much of the recorded output is the real thing and how much is studio wankery. After the songs become familiar, its good when they mix it up–with Wilco, I like how the last couple times I’ve seen them Jeff says “Nothing!” (after “I’d like to thank you all, for nothing) something like 50 times.

  4. LionIndex, yeah I see your point about the first tour. If last night’s show was any indication, there was not much studio wankery involved in the recording.

    PS – You’re not one of those crazies who actually count the number of “Nothing”s, are you? Those freaks crack me up.

  5. No, I just noticed that it was going on *way* longer than I was used to. I’m surprised there are actually people that do that. On second thought, knowing some of my friends, no I’m not.

  6. Jimmy S, I believe you! lol

    I’m totally stoked to see them in Poughkeepsie & NYC next month. A mere 3000+ miles away from where I live, but it’s always a good time for a Wilco road trip. Yes, I am a freak! (But I don’t count the “nothing”‘s at the end of Misunderstood – math was never my strong subject.)

  7. I’m totally stoked to start saying ‘stoked’ again. It’s about time the moritorium on this most gleaming the cubeingist of descriptors was lifted.

    JTL

  8. Off topic for John Troutman

    Speaking of tours, could the Mendoza Line go for broke and please come up to Canada?

    Wilco is, and the border delays are not that bad.

    I’d be stoked and stroked.

  9. Just to clarify why Jeff Tweedy said, “That’s your shit.” The comment was made in response to some “dude” standing next to me who kept yelling, “I love Jay Bennet.”

    LOL

    Bern

  10. Yeah, that makes a lot more sense than what I thought he was responding to. I heard someone yell, “California Stars!” and when Jeff replied I thought wow, he must really be sick of that song.

  11. haha how cute is that?

    Can’t wait to see em in london…

    Playing medium sized venue here (yay!) I was starting to get depressed when they began playing ampitheaters in los angeles.

    Great article, though I always keep the faith that Tweedy can pull his band through countless traumas and upsets. But thanks for the encouragement anyway!

  12. My review of the May 20th show

    Despite an ever-changing lineup, Wilco have managed to sustain long term passion and loyalty from its ardently supportive fan base. The members who’ve come and gone since the band’s inception in 1994 could form one truly talented, hell-raising outfit.

    However listeners take it, for better or for worse, Tweedy’s creativity is tantamount to change. To quote Chris Rock, “If it ain’t new, it’s through!” Nothing done good in the past is considered good to do again. Which is one of the reasons Wilco’s fans often need time to digest the sumptuous meals Tweedy, et al, have labored on. But, not unlike the ferocious king of the ocean, the Great White shark, Jeff Tweedy risks certain death, artistically speaking, if he stops to tread water.

    Even though fans have come to understand that expectations are often shattered with each new project (oftentimes, even in live shows), no matter what the listener thinks, the band has managed to sidestep every one of them. The fact that they have mastered this while still managing to keep the support and love of their rabid fan base is testimony to a certain Midwestern charm inherent in each of the band members (even New Orleans expatriate John Stirratt). The sense that the curve balls the band throws at their fans is not done in a way just to “fuck with their heads” like so many of today’s pretentious indie-label rock bands seem wont to do, but as a means of elevation and of bringing them along for the ride.

    A ride is just what most were in store for when Wilco performed two sold-out shows at Otto’s in Dekalb, Ill. in late May. Dekalb is about a two-hour drive from Chicago. But, per usual, the band’s supporters pulled up stakes and drove damn close to the Illinois/Iowa border to hear this oft-challenging band. Some were even stuck in one of the stronger rainstorms of recent memory to get there. Even poet Thax Douglas managed to find a ride to Otto’s in order to serve up another poem in their honor.

    The band as they are now, Jeff Tweedy on vocals and guitar, Glenn Kotche on drums and percussion, John Stirratt on bass and vocals, Mikael Jorgensen on keyboards and computer programming, were joined by its two newest members, Pat Sansone on guitar, keyboards and vocals (Sansone also performs with Stirratt in the Autumn Defense), and guitar virtuoso Nels Cline. The full band had only been rehearsing together for the previous week, but right from the start everything gelled and their sound was tighter this night than on any of the previous six times this reviewer has seen them.

    Starting out with Late Greats, one of nine songs off of their newest release, A Ghost Is Born, due out June 22 on Nonesuch Records, the force and harmony in the playing was instantly apparent. Tweedy’s voice was clear and strong, though his appearance was nothing short of unnerving. Having undergone a trip to rehab to wean himself off of his self-medicating a lifelong affliction with migraines, the singer looked thinner, paler and more than a little ragged. Nothing showed proof of this more than the tiredness apparent in his eyes. He looked a bit like he did circa the band’s debut album, A.M., but as that time’s flipside. Instead of a sunny disposition, this was a man who appeared to have gone through an emotional storm to rival the one outside of the club that night. But Tweedy dispelled thoughts culled from his image with a performance that was all heart and energetic drive.

    While the band played with more cohesion than anyone could have expected, Glenn Kotche tore into his drum kit with a ferocity not displayed by the drummer in the past. Kotche’s passionate performance made the show feel less like the tour opener than the group’s swan song. Playing with one of the more attractively designed kits to come around in awhile (the sea green of the shells interrupted by a mid-section of virginal white), Kotche hammered tune after tune, displaying a hard-rock side heretofore seen only in smaller doses.

    However disorienting it was to see Kotche attacking his kit with ferocity, the show’s biggest surprise was the performance of the band’s new “guitar slinger,” Nels Cline. Having little to zero knowledge of the man’s career and even less of what he sounded like, this reviewer went into the show with a hefty amount of skepticism about others’ comments on Cline’s guitar prowess. After that night I can safely say that those who sang his praises ahead of time were short-changing the man. Cline is quite possibly the most amazing guitar player in this day and time. He’s a man who instinctively knows when to highlight, when to hang back, when to accentuate and when to let go. Everything he did onstage that night was dead on and the band is better for his inclusion.

    There was no moment greater than when, during the first encore’s performance of (Spiders) Kidsmoke at the end of the song’s trance rhythm, (an obvious ode to Tweedy favorites, German art-rockers Neu!), the song kicks into a hard-rock stomp with Tweedy and Cline locking into a furious bit of guitar dueling, a throwback to Television (another Tweedy fave) members Richard Lloyd’s and Tom Verlaine’s in the 1970s. As shredding chords shrieked and tore through the ears of the club’s dazed onlookers, Cline and Tweedy ratcheted up the intensity higher and higher, as if to summon the Gods of music themselves. The song ended sharply and the denizens of the club were not left with the time needed to compose themselves, as the band quickly launched into the new album’s defining song, lyrically speaking, Theologians.

    Singing, “No one is ever gonna take my life from me/I lay it down/A Ghost is Born/A Ghost is Born/A Ghost is Born”, Tweedy shows that, despite the media whirlwind, personal and personnel turmoils of the past two or more years, that his life, and especially his art, are his own and are his to offer up as he so chooses. The lesson to be learned is to just give up expecting what Jeff Tweedy has in store next, but to welcome it when it arrives.

  13. Wilco albums take time. There is beauty in that. Even if you decided you don’t like it. That says something about the band.

  14. I saw the June show at the Vic Theater in Chicago, that you can download on your Ghost C.D.from Wilcoworld.net Thinking that they never would be the same, holy shitballs, this is the best version of Wilco I have seen yet. Does anyone know if you can burn the show from the internet onto a blank CD? It was my eighth Wilco show, and easily the best.

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