Wilco At Massey Hall in Toronto on Friday
They threw blasts of thundering art-noise and showers of guitar notes at their cozy melodic rock. They lofted gentler fare too, and when the singer stumbled once, he scolded a helpful but mistaken fan as being a "dummy." Such is the incongruous charm and power of Wilco, a band, as the following selected highlights show, who collage ugly upon its beauty, compellingly.
Art of Almost: A softly-lit stage, with ornamental ropes of white linen bells hanging every place, was took by the Chicago sextet, who said a moody, long and dynamic hello with the first song off its new album The Whole Love, set for release later this month. As the mainstay leader Jeff Tweedy sang softly and tensely – "shake the grail, disobey across the waves" – the band vamped on a dramatic sort of psychedelic-industrial rock, picking up pace, bulk and fury as it went, eventually ending in heap of menacing beats, with electric temper from a guitarist, Nels Cline, who experiments.
I Might: Driven by an upbeat bass line and tickled by a Motown-style organ riff, another one fresh off the vine. As Tweedy sang "the Magna Carta's on a Slim Jim blood, brutha," a near-capacity crowd for the first of two nights at Massey bopped their heads along in unison, agreeing instinctively with the gibberish. Later, two other songs were premiered, the instant concert staple Dawned on Me and the new album's easygoing title track.
Via Chicago: A calm number, about coming home, begins with the line "I dreamed about killing you again last night, and it felt alright to me." More than once the soft acoustic mood was over run by a rush of discordant commotion – the tumultuous sounds of a worried mind, chaos to the order. The effect is brilliant.
She's a Jar: "This is the worst experience of my life." Tweedy remembered to put his harmonica rack around his neck, but forgot the words to the slow-moving folk-rock tune from 1999's Summerteeth album. A fan in front who shouted out the wrong line is admonished by the rumpled, cranky-but-lovable singer, who later recanted: "I'm the dummy, obviously, but you should know better."
Jesus, Etc.: Before what is normally a mellow singalong, Tweedy requested that his paying, willing choir "shut up," because he need the practice singing the refrain about sad songs, tall buildings that shake and bitter melodies that turn our orbits around. The obliging crowd was complimented for "some of the best non-singing of the tour." Awww, shucks, Jeff.
I'm the Man Who Loves You: Tweedy dedicated the Beatles-in-Nashville pop-rocker from 2002's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot to one of his heroes, opening act Nick Lowe, standing at the side of stage. The fourth and final number of the nearly two-hour concert's encore featured Tweedy's guitar work for the first and only time, his red Gibson SG getting a workout. "Thanks again," he said, when it was over. "See you tomorrow night." And many would come back. Wilco wins with relatively challenging melodic rock and a crusty veneer from its front man that comes close but not quite to alienating. Call it the art of the almost.