Did you have problems finding a babysitter Friday night? I'm pretty sure they were getting paid by all those couples who were soaking in the Dad-rock cooked up by the newest incarnation of Wilco. And for good reason; they did indeed rock and the rolling came in handy as well (if only for the stoned dudesters behind me) for the eager crowd at Roy Wilkins Auditorium. For the first time in years, Wilco came back to the Twin Cities proper and put on a spectacular display of old-fashioned guitar jams, beautiful ballads and even a surprise solo from a Jayhawk.
As always, Cline's "Impossible Germany" solo Friday was a highlight of the set.
This evening was a welcome contrast to my first Wilco excursion, a 24-hour road trip from Chicago to Detroit and back during the second leg of the A Ghost is Born tour in 2005. I drove into town the day of the show, stayed at a Motel 6, then missed My Morning Jacket's opening set, not exactly making it an auspicious start. Yet Wilco brought down the house that night, making it one of the best shows I had ever seen and as a result, I almost feared how different they might be play Friday night. The relatively new Nels Cline has had a tendency to go off on long, tangential solos (as seen in their recent live doc, Ashes of American Flags). This worried me, along with a looming feeling that maybe they're getting to that point where they just not that interesting anymore (on stage or in the studio).
Their live show appears to be in no danger of wavering anytime soon. Surprisingly, as one who didn't like Wilco (The Album) as much as their back catalog, I found their live performance of these newest tunes far superior to their studio counterparts. In fact, they were done in such a solid, straight-ahead style that they became a relief from the overdone renditions of their great older tunes. You know, those songs they've played SO many times that the original form is almost completely gone in favor of a redone live version? Those songs (mostly from Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and A Ghost is Born) unfortunately now suffer from years of variance, lazy "catch-up" vocals and the ever present cacophonous conclusion.
Even with that said, Wilco still feels like a band who cares about being musicians first. Jeff Tweedy, in particular, spent the entirety of the show smiling, making philosophical jokes with the audience and each member looked to be having the time of their lives. They didn't sound like a band of 40+ year-old rock stars; more like a twentysomething garage act. Sure, they had the big computerized lights and a bevy of guitars constantly coming and going from the stage, but it was only a tiny bit of glitz for an actual rock band who certainly show no signs of slowing down.
Especially of note was an appearance during the first encore by local legend Gary Louris of the Jayhawks (a cohort of Tweedy's in Golden Smog) who came out and joined the band during "California Stars," providing a daft solo of his own to add yet another exclamation point to the show. Ending the evening, they smoothly chugged through six more fan favorites during a second encore, capping the night with their standard closer, the Woody Guthrie tune (from Mermaid Avenue) "Hoodoo Voodoo." We were worn out just from watching them play and if they felt the same, the certainly didn't show it. I guess they must work out?
In all it was another outstanding performance by the sextet from Chicago. Maybe they were passionately possessed after Chicago failed in its bid for the Olympics. Maybe good rock music only gets better with age. Or maybe the dads in attendance simply willed it to be so. It could have been all three, but I know for certain that Tweedy and Co. didn't disappoint. The audience was kept rapt until the sustain of the 27th song was completed, and with it an eminent return to suburbia flooded to the fore of consciousness as they slowly filed out into the cool of the evening.