Where the Hipster Meets the Hippie: Wilco wows a devout Mann Center audience
How do you write about your favorite band? Do you tell your readers to take everything you are about to say with a grain (or heap, more like) of salt because you’ve been a Wilco fan since before you were born (literally)? Or do you decide to embrace your innermost fanboy and scrawl out a review brimming with those adjectives we music critics employ when we like what we hear? And when it’s your first time seeing Wilco in your home city of Philadelphia since their show at the Tower Theater in 2008? It all seems a nightmare for any modicum of journalistic integrity to me.
I’ll tell you this much. I own more Wilco records and have seen more Wilco concerts (if you read my dad’s—yes, my dad’s—blurb on their top 10 [+1] songs, you’ll know that it’s a figure upwards of 50) than I have any other band. That part of the brain inexplicably responsible for storing song lyrics? Mine is cluttered by no band more than Wilco. Approximately half of my wardrobe comprises Wilco t-shirts. I’ve even made a mixtape exclusively of Wilco love songs, which is not only totally possible, but quite a nice idea if—and, probably, only if—your significant other is a huge a Wilco fan as you (a long shot, in my case). Simply put, I do not know life without Wilco. Which is why, rather than drone on about how magnificent an evening of music last night was, I have decided to tell you what my life would be like were I not such a Wilco fan, and had I not been in attendance for their return to Philadelphia at The Mann last night.
I would not have seen Wilco digress from Star Wars—which they’ve been playing essentially front-to-back at the beginning of every show since its surprise release last summer—to play the sonic jungles that are “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart” and “Art of Almost,” which are, arguably, Wilco’s two most inventive tracks (not to mention total tone-setters, seeing as they both kick off their respective records, released nearly a decade apart). Nor would I have seen Jeff Tweedy tip his hat to an adoring crowd as he sang the ear-worm chorus to “Hummingbird”: “Remember to remember me / Standing still in your past / Floating fast like a hummingbird.”
I certainly would not have made mental notes of all the night’s Big Star moments, like the intro to “Red-Eyed And Blue” (which you certainly don’t hear at every Wilco show), or the guitar solo on “Box Full of Letters,” played not by axe-wizard Nels Cline, but by Wilco’s resident rockstar multi-instrumentalist Pat Sansone, who, sporting an open waistcoat and a blonde telecaster throughout much of the show, seemed to be doing his best Bruce Springsteen impression. And I probably would not have joined in as the crowd sang “Happy Birthday” to keyboardist Mikael Jorgensen.
I would not have seen Richard Thompson (Tweedy’s best friend, or so he declared) lay down a guitar solo on “California Stars.” Worse yet, I would not have witnessed the crowd’s collective jaw drop as arms flew through the air like confetti in awe of Cline’s cochlea-melting shredding on “Impossible Germany.” I could go on for pages, really, about the things I would not have seen and heard, like Glen Kotche’s thunderous drum break at the end of “Pickled Ginger,” or the fact that they encored with “Spiders (Kidsmoke)” and “I’m a Wheel,” two rockin’ mood-masterpieces off of A Ghost is Born (which happens to be my favorite Wilco record).
You can learn a lot about Wilco by looking at their audience. I’ve observed over the years that Wilco have become perhaps the only band other than the Grateful Dead (post-Jerry iterations included) to whose shows it is acceptable, and even fashionable, to wear their own merch. I’ve also learned that, despite being a band billed as “dad-rock,” Wilco’s crowds can actually be quite diverse; Wilco shows are where the hipster meets the hippie. Of course, were I not such a huge Wilco fan, and had I not attended Saturday night’s show, I’d have not the slightest clue what a Wilco fan looks like, nor what I should be expected to wear to one of their shows. Then again, who am I kidding? Like, as if there’s a universe in which I’d miss a Wilco show.