Words by: Kayceman | Images by: Casey Flanigan
Wilco :: 06.27.09 :: Greek Theatre :: Berkeley, CA
Because we still love rock & roll, that's why we love Wilco. 15 years of Midwest workingman's charm and Jeff Tweedy's relentless pursuit of songcraft have given us a wealth of pure, deep-hearted, true blue American rock & roll. And on a gorgeous Northern California night at the Greek Theatre in Berkeley, a very sold out house gave witness to one of the most consistently impressive bands out there.
Over a marathon 24-song show they touched on all seven of their albums with a bit more emphasis being put on the more recent work. They performed like a band that's confident, happy and very well rehearsed. But, that's not to say the show was without surprises. Just because you can depend on Wilco doesn't mean they won't throw curveballs your way – in fact, that's a big reason why you can always count on this six-piece to deliver. It's all about dynamics and exposing their dualities. The songs are built on Tweedy's nuanced songwriting, which burrows deep into our experiences, often fixated on relationships, or lack there of, but from these foundations are explosions of noise most often led by gifted guitarist Nels Cline. It's rock solid songwriting with expansive instrumental searching and at times hugely psychedelic sheets of sound.
Just as they have for the majority of this tour, Wilco began with "Wilco (The Song)" - the first song from their recent release Wilco (The Album) - and not three minutes into the show Cline was on his knees pushing his guitar into the speaker stack, wrestling with the feedback. That set the tone and things didn't let up as "Muzzle Of Bees" built around a patient mid-tempo section with Tweedy's acoustic guitar layered brilliantly under Cline's constant metallic burn. There was a bit of Crazy Horse in the big crunchy hook of "At Least That's What You Said" and stand out new track "Bull Black Nova" was full of paranoid tension and devastatingly dissonant guitar swells. And to not make mention of drummer Glenn Kotche would be criminal. The guy is amazing, one of the best drummers in the game (and a stellar composer as well), and he showed equal ability slamming the heavy parts as he did executing the delicate accents.
When Tweedy addressed the crowd, as he did on a number of occasions, even slowing the show way down to ask one dazed fan if he was all right, you could see both sides of the man. He's the leader of one of the biggest bands of the day and he's been doing it for two decades (pre-Wilco with Uncle Tupelo), but he's still nervous, or at least not fully comfortable in the role. Tweedy is more at peace than ever these days and he's repeatedly praised the affects such stability and lack of dependency have had on his work. He's a proud father and good husband, dedicating the final song before the encore, "I'm The Man That Loves You," to his wife and bringing his son Spencer on stage decked out in bright tie-dye, laughing, "See what you've done to my son, hippies!" before telling the teenager, "Go take a bath." But where borderline sappy moments like this could very easily take away from the show, they rarely do (and the tie-dye thing was actually really funny). Even though I've heard the same banter at various different shows and just because they pull from the same general pool of songs for most of a tour it never comes off like a shtick. It always feels genuine, even if it's been said before, and it always feels fresh and inspired even if I heard "Jesus, Etc.," "Impossible Germany" or "Handshake Drugs" last time as well.
| Jeff Tweedy - Wilco :: 06.27 :: Berkeley, CA|
Always aware of the need to finish big, Wilco brought the night to a close with a five song encore that found Cline on the double-neck guitar for "You Never Know" before delivering a haunting "Misunderstood" and a sprawling "Spiders (Kidsmoke)" that got downright demented before erupting into a full crowd clap-along ending that fell right into "Hoodoo Voodoo." It was a generous cap to a very strong show.
Strolling back down the hill through the beautiful UC Berkeley campus under a picture perfect sky and still softly aglow from the experience, I was brought back to the mid-point of Wilco's set. Tweedy stepped into the light and before "California Stars" he stared out over his adoring mass of fans and proclaimed, "I think this is our favorite place to play," and judging by the roar of the crowd it was easy to see why.
Wilco :: 06.27.09 :: Greek Theatre :: Berkeley, CA
Wilco (The Song), Muzzle Of Bees, A Shot In The Arm, At Least That's What You Said, Bull Black Nova, You Are My Face, Deeper Down, I Am Trying To Break Your Heart, One Wing, Radio Cure, Impossible Germany, California Stars, Can't Stand It, Jesus, Etc., Handshake Drugs, Hate It Here, Walken, I'm The Man Who Loves You
Encore: You Never Know, The Late Greats, Box Full Of Letters, Misunderstood, Spiders (Kidsmoke), Hoodoo Voodoo
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