Picture Show: Wilco @ SummerStage

Wilco @ Central Park SummerStage – September 22

Words: Jeffrey Greenblatt
Pictures: Jeremy Gordon

On the last official day of summer, Chicago indie-alt.country-experimental-folk-rock act Wilco (phew, did I hit all the appropriate adjectives?), returned to Central Park SummerStage for the first time since June of 2003, for the second of three New York City performances.

[All photos by Jeremy Gordon]

The previous night saw the band played a tight hour-long set as part of the fantastic Live On Letterman series, but for those that couldn’t make into the Ed Sullivan Theatre, this was their first time getting to see Jeff Tweedy & Co. play a proper headlining gig on the island of Manhattan since their two-night stand at the Hammerstein Ballroom all the way back in June of  2007, as they’ve chosen to play venues in both Brooklyn and Montclair during their last few swings through the area. It was somewhat of an atypical night from the Chicago-based sextet, as the band used a healthy portion of their of two hour set to focus on new material, playing eight cuts from their dBpm debut, which had yet to be released at the time.

On this slightly, muggy and overcast night, the band wasted no time in kicking things into high gear, opening with the seven-plus minute, Kraut-rock inspired track Art Of Almost, and the punchy I Might – the opening two tracks from their latest studio effort The Whole Love. A string of familiar fan favorites followed, all allowing Nels Cline to flex his guitar prowess, and show why he may be the most under-appreciated guitar player around. Cline has an unmatched ability to add dense, frantic sonic textures, working an array of pedals and a table full of knobs-twisting devices, all while somehow not overpowering Tweedy’s sometimes understated vocals.

There was something a bit methodical about the band’s approach in the first half of the show, as there was barely a pause between songs, often with one song bleeding into the next. There also wasn’t any of the typical Tweedy stage banter that often times rivals the musical portion of the shows thanks to his unfiltered barbs with audience members, witty stories or off-the-cuff one-liners.

While fans will eventually come to appreciate the subtleness of One Sunday Morning, on this night the 12-minute winding, wordy acoustic number, seemed to drain some of the energy from the sold-out crowd. It was shortly after that though, that the band and crowd truly began to click. Shouldn’t Be Ashamed provided a jolt of old-school country-rock flavor, and it was at that point that things started to loosen up a bit, as Tweedy turned on the charm addressing the crowd for the first time all night. My personal highlights of the night came shortly thereafter, with the tender Summerteeth cut She’s A Jar, the bouncy, sing-along, crowd-pleaser Handshake Drugs and Impossible Germany, with its always mesmerizing, high-octane, psychedelic freak-out guitar solo.

The night closed in classic Wilco fashion, with an extended encore that was filled fan favorites. Prior to playing the Yankee Hotel Foxtrot tunes War On War and Jesus, Etc., Jeff stopped for a moment to reflect on them. Tweedy told the crowd that the band, albeit a very different incarnation of it, had played those two songs at NYC’s Town Hall, exactly ten years to the day. Jeff mentioned that the songs had changed meanings from the time they wrote them to the time that they came out – a heartwarming  nod to New York City, who just weeks prior had gone through the trauma of 9/11. The closing stanza featured the punk-y I’m The Man Who Loves You, followed by back-to-back album tracks from Being There – Monday and Outtasite, which ended the night on a high note.

Wilco – Rumsey Playfield – Central Park Summerstage – New York, NY – 2011-09-22

Art Of Almost, I Might, Ashes Of American Flags, I Am Trying To Break Your Heart, One Wing, Bull Black Nova, At Least Thats What You Said, One Sunday Morning, Shouldn’t Be Ashamed, Born Alone, She’s A Jar, Handshake Drugs, Standing O, Rising Red Lung, Impossible Germany, Dawned On Me, A Shot In The Arm, Hummingbird

Via Chicago, Whole Love, War On War, Jesus Etc., I’m The Man Who Loves You, Monday, Outtasite

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