Wilco at Gammage Auditorium, 1/21/12
Melissa Fossum Jeff Tweedy of Wilco
Saturday, January 21, 2012
Plenty of derisive things get said about Wilco being "dad rock."
You can't get around the fact that songwriter Jeff Tweedy, bassist John Stirratt, drummer Glenn Kotche, guitarist Nels Cline, and multi-instrumentalists Pat Sansone and Mikael Jorgensen, are indeed pushing or well into "dad age," but there's an intended sting to the tag, implying that the band has lost its edge, that the band makes music solely for graying NPR listeners and flannel-clad white kids. (A sage friend, before the show: "Sonic Youth is a $20 ticket, Wilco is $50, all because they've tapped into that Eagles demographic.")
And, sure, that's exactly who filled a sold-out Gammage Auditorium last night, but anyone expecting Wilco to "take it easy" would have been shaken by the first two songs: The 12-minute-plus "One Sunday Morning," the downcast number that closes 2011's The Whole Love, and the seven-minute art rocker "The Art of Almost," which opens the album. Say what you will about the pastoral, easy-going vibes of Wilco, but don't say that the band panders to anyone.
Avant-garde jazz guitarist Nels Cline, who joined the band in 2004, certainly makes his presence known. His signature flutter defines songs like "One Wing" and "The Whole Love," and his violent, pedal-mashing noise makes songs like "Art of Almost" work. An incredibly physical guitarist, there's an insane glee in Cline's sound. Fans of the band's early alt-country roots might find the stuff excessive, but there was no denying the live centerpiece "Impossible Germany."
The song, a kind of spiky, Television-via-Grateful Dead number from the band's most laid-back record, Sky Blue Sky, has become a live staple, and for good reason. Cline's solo section, bolstered by harmonized guitar lines from Tweedy and Sansone, is one of the most soulful moments in the Wilco catalog. Cline doesn't just shred, either. He sat down with a lap steel for tender moments like "Jesus Etc," and his inventive playing gives the power pop of "Born Alone" a post-punk dignity, while "Dawned on Me" found Cline at the helm of a double-necked beast. ("Look at that guitar," Tweedy quipped.)