Wilco Thursday, May 8, 2008 Pikes Peak Center, Colorado Springs Better Than: The last time I saw Wilco at the Fillmore.
The first time I heard the live version of Wilco’s “Handshake Drugs” from Kicking Television I was floored by the guitar solo in the middle and the pure sonic wash of three guitars at the end of the song. I thought, "OK, this version completely kicks the ass of the studio version of on A Ghost is Born." Then I thought, “Who the hell was playing that guitar solo?” Not to knock Jeff Tweedy’s guitar chops, but I was pretty damn sure it wasn’t him.
When I discovered it was Nels Cline, I thought, “Nels Cline, the forward-thinking avant guitarist playing in Wilco? Jesus, when did this happen?” Turns out that the guy has been touring with the band since 2004. What stroke of genius that was on Wilco’s part recruiting Cline, which was even more apparent after seeing the band Thursday at the Pikes Peak Center in Colorado Springs. Cline’s playing throughout the set was brilliant, especially his solos on “Either Way,” “Impossible Germany” and the triple guitar barrage of Cline, Tweedy and Pat Sansone on “Handshake Drugs.”
While Cline added some colorful textures to Wilco’s sound, Tweedy is the band’s master painter. Tweedy’s just got this thing, man, when he sings. It’s this sad and beautiful, brutally honest way of singing that makes you, well, really want to believe the guy, especially when he was achingly singing the line “I’m so out of tune with you” from “Sunken Treasure.” Or on “Misunderstood” where he sang “Fortune inside your head/All you touch turns to lead/You think you might just crawl back in bed.”
Every so often, Tweedy would sing these amazingly poetic lines, some of which might get overlooked by just listening to the CD. During “Shake it Off," with arms held out in a circle, Tweedy sang “so many hearts beating in one place,” which seemed to breathe new life and take on new meaning last night. It was one brilliant nugget after the other, whether it was from one of the six songs from Sky Blue Sky or the few cuts from Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and Being There. Wilco’s entire catalog was represented in some way last night.
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About halfway through the set Tweedy asked, “Do you guys know anyone from Grand Junction?” The band played there the previous night, and Tweedy said the place reminded him of the film Blazing Saddles. A few songs later, Tweedy said, “Thanks for requesting most of those songs,” pointing out that people could request songs on the band’s web site. “All the songs are songs that one person wanted to hear, but this one got three votes,” he said referring to “Jesus Etc.”
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Wearing a jeans and a jean jacket, Tweedy looked a bit ragged with unkempt hair, red nose and some facial fuzz. During the first encore, Tweedy said earlier that day he had hiked along the Columbine Trail on Cheyenne Mountain in search of NORAD. Along the way he stumbled across Helen Hunt Falls, and joked about how he was pretty sure it was named after the Mad About You star. Tweedy then added, “And speaking of pop culture…” just as drummer Glenn Kotche fired up the opening riff of “Heavy Metal Drummer.”
After a seventeen-song hour-and-a-half set, Wilco came back out for two encores to play another nine songs, which included a number of older cuts like “Passenger Side,” “Casino Queen,” and “California Stars” and “Hoodoo Voodoo,” two cuts from Wilco’s collaboration with Billy Bragg.
Personal Bias: These guys always put on near magical shows. Random Detail: I didn’t realize until last night, but keyboardist Mike Jorgensen is a dead ringer for actor Tim Roth By the Way: Jeff Tweedy said Glenn Kotche’s wife is expecting a baby soon.