Last Night: Wilco, Nick Lowe The Music Hall at Fair Park November 29th, 2011
Better than: seeing Wilco at the UNT auditorium
There was an emphasis on the noisier side of Wilco last night, and that was completely fine with the mostly-full Music Hall at Fair Park.
The band, still in its definitive six-piece lineup, played for almost two hours in a venue that usually features touring editions of Phantom of the Opera and Mamma Mia! Turns out, the Music Hall was perfect for the band. Nobody's instrument dominated the sound mix - and nobody was completely buried. You could hear Mikael Jorgensen's subtle keyboard parts, Glen Kotche's hi-hat tambourine, and John Stirratt's backing vocals, all while Nels Cline used his guitars to navigate the stratosphere.
Frontman Jeff Tweedy was wisely conservative with his usual stage banter. After eight songs, a shaky Tweedy nervously said, "Hello Dallas!" Unlike the kind of audience conversations you see on DVDs like Sunken Treasure or I Am Trying to Break Your Heart, the few times he said something included only a couple of sentences.
But he did have a great line before "Heavy Metal Drummer": "This is the closest thing we have to a hit song."
Since the band is touring off of this year's The Whole Love, it was understandable how the nexus of the set was made of songs from that album. Starting off with "One Sunday Morning," the album's closer, was a bit of a gamble, given how it is longer than 10 minutes and teases the listener with a possibility of a powerful climax. Alas, the groundwork for the 20-song set was laid and the band didn't stray too far.
With a total of eight songs from The Whole Love, they were some of its most memorable (and hummable) ones. Coming from an album that sounds like a multi-car collision of This Year's Model, Dark Side of the Moon and All Things Must Pass, pop nuggets like "I Might" and "Born Alone" laid beside the peaceful "Black Moon."
As for the rest of the songs, every album except Being There was touched on. So, while you didn't get "Misunderstood," you got stuff like "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart," "Handshake Drugs," "A Shot in the Arm" and even "Passenger Side" from their debut, A.M.
Performance-wise, there was nothing atypical, which in Wilco terms, also means it was nothing short of amazing. Nels Cline in particular pulls off the kind of guitar leads that don't feel indulgent or lazy. Like watching Robert Quine instead of Yngwie Malmsteen, Cline's leads were divine, especially during "Impossible Germany."
Drummer Glenn Kotche, backed by a Zildjian gong he never hit, didn't leave any other part of his kit untouched. Whether it was the crotales to his left, the sampler to his right, or the drums and cymbals in front of him, he showed how polyrhythms can be worked into any style, even in a band like Wilco.
And it sure helped that the lighting set-up was unique and tantalizing. Covered by a few hundred white rags that hung above the stage and on the sides, they perfectly reflected the blues, the reds, and the occasional video images. Maybe they took some notes from Wilonsky's show review of the Palladium Ballroom set back in 2009.
Opener Nick Lowe received a standing ovation as he left the stage five minutes to 9 p.m. And it wasn't because he played "Cruel to Be Kind," Elvis Costello's "Alison" and "(What's So Funny About) Peace, Love, and Understanding?" Decked out head-to-toe in black, the silver-haired Lowe played a healthy mix of new songs and old songs with only an acoustic guitar strapped on. He had a friendly presence, a great voice and songs that tugged or tore at your heart.
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Personal bias: My first time to see Wilco live, even though I've wanted to see them for many years. I decided to check them out after I saw the "Outtasite (Outta Mind)" video on 120 Minutes and read Greg Kot's four-star review of Being There in Rolling Stone. I've remained a fan ever since.
By the way: The ushers worked like hawks in preventing any kind of photography or recording during Wilco's set. Yes, even if you wanted to snap a pic with your camera phone without a flash, you were singled out and told to stop.
Wilco's set list: "One Sunday Morning" "Poor Places" "Art of Almost" "I Might" "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart" "One Wing" "Bull Black Nova" "Black Moon" "Impossible Germany" "Born Alone" "Jesus Etc." "Capitol City" "Handshake Drugs" "Dawned On Me" "Hummingbird" "Whole Love" "A Shot in the Arm"
Encore "Passenger Side" "Heavy Metal Drummer" "I'm the Man Who Loves You"