Saturday, November 7, 2009

Wilco - December 31, 2004


Every Saturday The Rock and Roll Guru gives a comprehensive review of a live concert.

Back in 2004, I decided to reign in the New Year with my girlfriend (now my wife) at Madison Square Garden. We had tickets to see Wilco, whom neither of us had experienced live and we were both looking forward to the evening. Sleater Kinney and The Flaming Lips were the opening acts, and a very cool New Year’s Eve in New York City was expected.

Our seats were awesome ones for the Garden; section 47, row G, seats 1 and 2. This is the closest I’ve ever been to the stage at MSG. They were amazing seats and I was real happy to be sitting that close. Unfortunately, the concert was far from sold out, with many seats available in the 300s and no one sitting in the 400s. That may be why I was able to score such excellent tickets for this show.

Sleater Kinney kicked off the evening. I had seen them open for Pearl Jam on a couple of occasions and I didn’t particularly care for them then. This night would be no exception. I never got into their music and opening acts have a hard time with the sound still being adjusted. Add to that the fact that I knew none of their songs, and there wasn’t much hope. I patiently sat through their set, but did not come away liking them any more than previous performances.

The Flaming Lips were next, and I was only familiar one of their songs, She Don’t Use Jelly, but was looking forward to seeing them in concert. I had heard a lot of good things about the band, so my curiosity was highly peaked. The Flaming Lips did not disappoint. They opened with a nice light show and a bunch of mascots waltzing on stage that looked like a bunch of Pok√©mon characters dancing around. It was surreal, but entertaining. As I mentioned, I did not know their music at all, but from the opening notes of their first song, I was mesmerized. These guys were great and played intense, incredible, melodic music that transported me away to the land of happiness.

That night, I became a fan of The Flaming Lips. Their psychedelic music and emotional performance had me smiling, laughing, and enjoying myself like never before. My wife was also thrilled with their performance. At one point during their hour long set, the band unleashed a massive amount of balloons from the ceiling, and we were swimming in them gleefully.

As an opening act, The Flaming Lips were astounding. They conquered us with their music and live show, and my wife and I both agreed that we would like to see them in concert again. We even went out the next week and purchased a couple of their albums. They were simply amazing.

After The Flaming Lips left the stage and a little time passed (for clean up and instrument changes), the headliners were ready to step into the spotlight. Touring in support of A Ghost Is Born, Wilco had been through a whirlwind year and were really hitting their stride with the new members and the departure of (the incredibly talented) Jay Bennett. I had heard and read good things about the tour, and seeing them on New Year’s Eve in New York City was something special.

The band opened with a song I didn’t (and still don’t) particularly care for, and then kicked into Spiders (Kidsmoke). Spiders sounded intense live with a blistering guitar solo that really woke the crowd up.

Handshake Drugs was another awesome live song from the new album. Seeing it live really helped secure it as one of my favorite Wilco songs. It’s an amazing tune that sounds incredible in concert. A couple of classics would follow in the form of I Am Trying To Break Your Heart and A Shot In The Arm. Both were outstanding on that evening.

Wilco was a tight unit that night, performing like a well oiled machine, having a good time, and enjoying performing for the audience. The prerequisite Auld Lang Syne was played at midnight when we all rang in the New Year together, and then Wilco went into cover mode. They started with a performance of Judas Priest’s Living After Midnight and actually played it quite well. I had forgotten that Jeff Tweedy was a metal head in his youth. Love Will Keep Us Together and two other cover songs followed, after which Tweedy jokingly commented, “Hey, what do you know? You guys paid $45 to see a cover band!” And while the cover tunes may have been a bit much that night, they were all fun to listen to, and it was interesting to see Wilco perform such a wide variety of music.

The highlight of the night (for me) came in the form of Heavy Metal Drummer. This is my all time favorite Wilco song and hearing it live was an amazing experience. From the opening piano note, the crowd went bananas, which goes to show that I’m not the only one in love with this song. My wife didn’t know the song (she was not well versed in Wilco at all), but she too thought it was a great song. Wilco gave a blistering performance and really did the song justice live.

Wilco won me over as a true fan that night. Seeing them in concert made me appreciate their music that much more, I would definitely experience them live again. I haven’t had the opportunity to yet (although I’ve come close a couple of times, most notably this past year’s Bonnaroo), but when they come back around to the New Jersey area, count me in.

Setlist
Less Than You Think
Spiders (Kidsmoke)
Hummingbird
Handshake Drugs
I Am Trying To Break Your Heart
A Shot In The Arm
At Least That’s What You Said
Jesus, Etc.
Theologians
Poor Places
Auld Lang Syne
Living After Midnight
Love Will Keep Us Together
Political Science
I Shall Be Released
Something In The Air
Heavy Metal Drummer
Kingpin
I’m The Man Who Loves You
The Late Greats
I’m A Wheel
(Don’t Fear) The Reaper
Gut Feeling/Slap Your Mammy
Comment (If Men Are Truly Brothers)

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