Wilco will love you, baby

I spent three hours standing on a hard floor, bent sideways for optimum visibility, and sipping on the worst drink I’ve ever had. I can’t tell you the last time I’ve had a happier evening. What is it about Wilco that makes everything so awesome?

Wilco: you either love them or you are deaf hate them. And when they come somewhere close to town, the latter group of people are certain to tire of Wilco chatter because they can’t hear it that’s how backlash works. The former group, however, either knows from experience or has heard from a peer that their live show absolutely cannot be missed.

Richmond knew this, and the lucky ticketholders packed the National last night for a three hour (plus) evening with Jeff Tweedy and his pals (John Stirratt, Glenn Kotche, Nels Cline, Pat Sansone, and Mikael Jorgensen). More than ever, Wilco made a confident and considerate impression that this show was crafted specifically for us, with no corners cut and no subpar guitar played. Probably a trillion pieces of equipment filled the stage in what appeared to be organized chaos, and it was only when the band had played a few songs that there was in fact nothing at all chaotic about their organization.

If Wilco’s tour were a movie, it would be a favorite for the Best Supporting Dudes award. Guitars, cymbals, miscellany — all were supplied fresh between every song, so that the audience would never hear a note on an instrument not precisely correct for the way the song was composed. The precision of it all was mind-boggling, almost as fascinating to watch as the actual performance itself, which consisted of satisfyingly career-spanning tunes. Midway through the set, during Yankee Hotel Foxtrot’s “Poor Places,” a small army speedily constructed a stripped-down version of the band’s setup. As Nels Cline’s dramatic noise ending to the song held our attention, vintage-esque floor lamps flickered on and off and the band reassembled on the front half of the stage to bring us seamlessly into an acoustic set beginning with “Spiders (Kidsmoke)” (from A Ghost is Born) and moving through some older favorites like “Passenger Side” (AM). During a jovial “Outta Mind (Outta Sight)” (Being There), the transformation began again, the small army quietly reappeared, and by the end of the song, the band was fully plugged in, lit up, and ready to re-embrace rock stardom with “Misunderstood” (Being There).

On Wilco’s website, fans can request songs to be played at specific shows. The band then chooses from the requests, incorporates them into the show, and rearranges the choreography involved with all the guitar-switching accordingly. As a result, we got to hear climactic renditions of “Side with the Seeds” (Sky Blue Sky) and “Shot in the Arm” (Summerteeth), as well as the sweeter “Company In My Back” (A Ghost Is Born). This incredible effort wasn’t readily apparent to some showgoers, it seemed, as various douchebags still found it necessary to scream titles between songs. Tweedz, unamused, assured some impromptu requesters that though they would be performing said song, it was already part of their carefully planned setlist.

And that wasn’t the first of the crowd’s showgoing rudeness. Despite repeated pleas from the band to cut the chatter, the venue still echoed with a constant buzz of talk. The effect was somewhat like watching my favorite band at a mall food court. Or a bus station. My guess is that they were talking too loudly to hear Tweedy ask why anyone would pay that amount of money to see a show to not pay attention to it. If anything, it just got worse as the night went on. “How to Fight Loneliness,” one of my favorite songs from Summerteeth, is an introspective, sad little acoustic song. From my vantage point, though, the lyrics went something like this. “How to fight loneliness, just smile all the YEAH I AM TELLING YOU THAT IS WHAT MY BOSS SAID. CAN YOU BELIEVE THAT DICK?”*

One time, in my younger days, some kids I didn’t know kept pelting ice at me over the booth dividers at Ipanema, and after asking them multiple times to stop, I lobbed an entire drink backwards over my head. Ladies and gentlemen, I have never felt so satisfied in my life. My fingers almost itched to throw my terrible greyhound last night, but on which rude as hell group of people? And would it only further disrupt the show? I had visions of myself being escorted out by security to a soundtrack of my own protestations (something like “I had to tell two guys to stop taking effing Blackberry pictures** myself! I’ve been doing your job for you all night!”). If you’re reading this and you can remember more than one conversation with your group of pals from last night, you should be ashamed of yourself. Not only could I hear you over the band we all (including you, which is crazy to me) spent a lot of money to see, but what’s worse that same band will probably never want to play here again.

On behalf of the rest of us, Wilco, please, please come back to Richmond! Maybe you just need to be a little firmer – Distribute pamphlets? Deputize me and let me loose with a water gun full of rail vodka? I will do whatever it takes, Jeff. Whatever it takes.

Perfect show, less than perfect audience. Eleventeen stars.

*True story.
**Here’s the thing, jerks. I can understand hope taking over your common sense ONE TIME as you attempt to possibly get a decent shot with your phone. But if the band has SPECIFICALLY REQUESTED that there be no photography or recording of any kind, you need to put your Blackberry in your pocket and focus on the majesty in front of you. Taking photos during shows is distracting for the rest of us, and for short people that can barely see over your sweaty back, it’s akin to texting in a movie theater, as you lift it up high into my field of vision not once, but thirty times, to snap the same blurry photo again and again, like you think a Pulitzer prize is just waiting for the person who can submit the best of the identical blown-out photos you’re all taking.

(Photo courtesy of wilco.net)

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Susan Howson

Susan Howson is managing editor for this very website. She writes THE BEST bios.

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