Sunday, October 9, 2011

Capitol city

Last week I saw Wilco in two capitol cities: Nashville, and my own city of Madison. The Nashville shows over the weekend comprised my second Ryman experience, every bit as good as the first. The old church sounds amazing, even from up front, and soul can be felt in every inch of the room. The Overture is a beautiful theater - downright formal compared to the Ryman, though I've warmed to it as a concert setting in recent months.

Seeing Wilco for the first time since Solid Sound back in June, I was eager to hear songs from the new album in person. Although I've seen a few performed before - solo, duo, and six-piece - that was before I really knew them. Over the course of these three shows I was lucky enough to see all but one. ("Sunloathe," I'll get you eventually.) "Capitol City," which opened the Madison show, was a fun and fitting beginning. "Open Mind" was debuted by a full band on the Ryman stage, also a fitting locale for the most traditional of the Whole Love songs. "Born Alone" soared, and "Art of Almost" fractured and built itself up again.

Then again, it wasn't all about the new songs. The second Ryman show began with "Less Than You Think," one of the most beautiful lyrics Jeff has ever written (in my humble opinion). I think Sunday was the first time I'd seen it played since early 2008, and it gave me goosebumps. "Shouldn't Be Ashamed" and "Box Full of Letters" were also welcome inclusions from A.M. I admit to missing songs from Summerteeth - only "Via Chicago" and "Shot in the Arm" were played over the three shows - but I have faith that they're not gone for good.

Wilco shows wouldn't be complete without the requisite stage banter. In Nashville Jeff's talk mostly centered around the crowds both nights, with a jab or two at the zealous security guards. In Madison, there were sports metaphors and some talk about the Brew Crew, though I can only assume Jeff is sending the team fewer good wishes at the moment against the Cardinals. He also brandished the actual proposal from last year declaring the members of Wilco to be honorary citizens of Madison. "We are home," Jeff proclaimed, reading the following passage:

WHEREAS, Wilco has visited Madison and played concerts here at least thirteen times since 1995 (including a show at Club DeWash in February of 1995); and,
WHEREAS, Jeff Tweedy says of Madison: ‘We really like it here’; and,
WHEREAS, Wisconsinites generally have a love/hate relationship with all things from Illinois but the sold-out show at the Overture Center on February 21, 2010 (sic) had only love for this band from Chicago; and,
WHEREAS, at least one member of the Common Council attended the show and can attest to its excellence; and,
WHEREAS, The Isthmus called Wilco ‘America’s shiniest rock object’; and,
WHEREAS, Duluth, MN may be cool, but we would not want it said that either that fine city or its mayor are cooler than Madison and our mayor (even if Mayor Dave is not sure who Jeff Tweedy is); and...

"I can't wait to whip this out when we get arrested later," Jeff joked.

Neither the Nashville shows nor Madison would have been the same without "36 Inches" and "I Love My Label," which saw the legendary Nick Lowe joining Wilco on stage. Nick's opening sets were terrific, and the happiness of everyone on stage during the collaborations was a joy to behold. Nick will be along again for Wilco's shows in December, including a stop in Milwaukee. I'm looking forward to seeing what else they might have up their sleeves. Seven-man cover of "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding," anyone?

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