The Red, The Wilco and the Blues
R S Toner @rstoner808
Support act for the night, William Tyler, thanks the crowd before introducing his final number, with a partial apology for the current state of his nation but encourages everyone to “hold on to this stuff”. ‘Stuff’ on this occasion being music and the indescribable feeling a night of great American music can do to medicate the soul at a time when politically the world appears to be losing its collective mind.
Tyler prepares the crowd perfectly, both musically and theologically. His cowboy guitar instrumental set helps curate a suitable mood, but the sentiment in his sign off is exactly what Wilco are about. Their set lets the capacity audience forget about Donald Trump and all the other scary elements of living in 2016 for a couple of hours and rejoice in some great, great music.
They touch on the first few songs from the newest Wilco long player ‘Schmilco’ at the beginning of the set (‘Normal American Kids’, ‘If I Ever Was A Child’ and ‘Cry All Day’) before tearing into some of their more established material with ‘I Am Trying to Break Your Heart’. The crowd are immediately onside and bobbing along in tandem with the band.
Undoubtedly one of the many highlights of the whole night is 5 songs in: ‘Art of Almost’ takes the things to an altogether darker, eerier destination. Nels Cline once again uses his guitar and chaos pad to strangle his solo into some acid-jazz Johnny Greenwood territory. The band create a mood, (dare I say it) a groove that Primal Scream would be proud of, before climaxing with an almighty build and breakdown jam reminiscent of MC5 or The Stooges. All around the Academy, feets are tapping and heads are nodding in severe approval.
Likewise, a couple of songs later, a stripped-down campfire rendition of ‘Misunderstood’ is something of a delightful curveball. The vitriolic venom and anger of the usual outro refrain is replaced by acoustics, pedal steel and some fine banjo playing from Pat Sansone.
For ‘Via Chicago’ however, the crowd get what they want and Wilco tear the song apart with white noise during the second verse and somehow manage to stick it back together in time too on multiple occasions. Nels Cline’s guitar playing is once again at the fore of the Wilco sound. At moments some of the crowd might be speculating that he has gone too far but it is of course during ‘Impossible Germany’ when Cline’s avant-garde approach to playing really hits its full potential. A solo that seems to go on forever, builds to a fantastical crescendo with the entire band breaking out at the end.
The band return for two encores, servicing the crowd with ‘Jesus Etc.’ (which as expected receives the biggest cheer of the night), before ending with ‘California Stars’ (from their 1998 collaboration with Billy Bragg ‘Mermaid Avenue’ putting the lyrics of Woody Guthrie to music) joined by William Tyler and finally signing off with a raucous version of ‘Shot in the Arm’. The crowd are on their feet screaming back at Jeff Tweedy in unison: “…what you once were isn’t what you want to be anymore”. Tonight, Trump didn’t have a look in!