As the headlining act at Friday’s concert in South Bend, Wilco took absolutely no prisoners. Considering the show’s status as the band’s only summertime appearance in the Midwest, there was a sense of magic in the air and great enthusiasm.
Coveleski Ballpark, nestled in the urbanized portions of South Bend, presented a variety of unique characteristics for the show. For one, it demanded the audacity of die-hard fans to be willing to travel to South Bend. The location of this isolated summer show was indeed strange, but, then again, Wilco has the tendency to pull bizarre moves with aplomb. The band, having played in several minor league ballparks before, was certainly no stranger to the festival-like atmosphere of the gig. And the audience was as dynamic as the setlist, with fans ranging from infancy to deep, deep adulthood.
Yo La Tengo opened the show with there madness-drenched indie lushness. Guitarist and Vocalist Ira Kaplan ripped through sonic soundscapes and brought the audience into a wonderful unity. Aside from the instances of rampaging drunkenness (and there were a few…), the crowd was entranced and excited – calm, but enthralled.
Highlights from Tengo’s set included “Autumn Sweater” (an absolutely killer opener) and their cover of Neil Young’s “For the Turnstiles” (a much appreciated tribute to Bob Keith).
Before long, the members of Wilco were taking the stage to the theme from The Price is Right. The band soulfully opened with “Sunken Treasure,” setting off what would eventually end up as a purely majestic setlist.
Jeff Tweedy, the leader of the group throughout the years, commanded an eclectic barrage of sound and noise. The band wound through their catalog of songs (“One of these songs must have been a hit somewhere,” quipped the sarcastic Tweedy) and veered from country ballad to shoegazing noise rock.
Lead Guitarist Nels Cline carried many of the band’s descents into musical chaos with his calculated solos complete with spacey effects. Cline’s guitar work was, in fact, one of the most captivating elements of the show. His soaring solo at the end of “Impossible Germany” was simply spellbinding. Couple his wailing guitar tones with his mastery of the lap steel guitar and one would be hard pressed to have taken their eyes off of him.
The band came off extremely happy and jazzed about the show – and there are plenty of reasons. Wilco is headlining/curating its first ever festival this August. The Solid Sound Festival will be a celebration of all things Wilco – from side projects to art galleries of the band’s gig posters. Following that, fans have a new album to be looking forward to. According to the band, studio time is in the near future with a possible release 2011. Tweedy has hinted in interviews that he’s considering taking Radiohead’s pay-what-you-want approach.
It seems like Wilco’s inherent iconoclasm is still burning bright. And for the record, here’s their setlist from the show.