Saturday, October 17, 2009

Wilco, Ann Arbor — 10/16

Good times, old territory. I'm wearing a pair of 501s that are on their way to being retired, but I still love the jeans. They're comfortable. That's the way Ann Arbor feels to me — comfortable, known territory.

Seeing Wilco here last night was like bringing some new life into that old territory. Though I've seen them repeatedly over the years — first as Uncle Tupelo in 1992, and then three times since Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was released they consistently impress and amaze me in the shows. It seems that with each iteration they get tighter and more interesting as a band. What this allows them is a deep ground for turning out great renditions of recent songs and surprisingly energetic takes on tracks from their first album — and even sometimes from Tupelo days.

Last night, they mixed a healthy dose of Ghost with most of YHF. There was plenty of new stuff, of course, but the surprise came in what they played and what they didn't play from years past. I've never heard them pull "Box Full of Letters" out live or even do a complete wild card — "Just a Kid." Last night they pulled that out with a couple of spirited songs with Liam Finn joining in — "You Never Know" and "California Stars." There were some old favorites missing from Summerteeth and Being There, and I'm sure someone was crying over the omission of "Heavy Metal Drummer." The thing is, it was a 28-song set. In two-and-a-half hours.

Nels tore it up on the lead, and Pat Sansone was pulling all sorts of rockstar shimmies. Glenn was drenched by the end. Tweedy and Stirratt were as energetic as I've seen them. Still, the one odd note was the abrupt ending — particularly with a roadie waiting in the wings with a new guitar for Tweedy. The band seemed a little taken by surprise too. But anyone listening closely could hear how much Tweedy's voice was straining at the end. He seemed to be working at speaking in between songs. The best I can guess is that he finally gave out. But again... who can complain? They packed a hell of a set in those two and a half hours.

And like the city which is both comfortable and has a new surprise or two each year — some good, some not so good — the band I've followed so closely over the past few years was both a comfort and a great surprise.