Monday, July 2nd, 2007

Hoodoo Voodoo

“The next time we’re in town, we want outrageous, rambunctious behaviour right off the bat”.

So said Jeff Tweedy the last time Wilco came through town almost a year ago and remembering that dressing down (watch the 10MB AVI of him berating us), Saturday night’s Wilco show at Massey Hall started with a good old-fashioned stage rush from the floor seats that pretty much set the tone for the night – and we didn’t even have to yell, “Enough with the artsy-fartsy sombre numbers, man”. This was the last night of a two and a half week North American tour and while that’s barely a walk in the park for road warriors like Wilco, they were prepared to leave it all on stage. Every last bit.

But before I get into that, Low deserves mention. Of all the bands I’ve seen open for Wilco over the years, they were the first I was really excited about rather than curious and it’s a shame they’ll probably never be big enough to play a venue like Massey on their own because they sounded magnificent. The acoustics of the room suited them perfectly, their spare and solemn hymns ringing out like it was a cathedral. It’s kind of funny that a band that’s released what’s arguably their darkest, bleakest record in Drums And Guns should tour with one who just released their lightest and breeziest (Wilco and Sky Blue Sky, if you need cue cards) but whatever, whyever, I’m grateful for it. Wilco axeman Nels Cline came out to lend lap steel on a couple songs including a stunning reading of “Pissing” and when their too-short 40-minute set wrapped, they left the stage to a standing ovation from the audience.

And back to the main event. Considering this was my ninth time seeing Wilco – four times in support of A Ghost Is Born alone – it was a very real risk that what used to be an event was starting to feel a bit routine. After all, the set list over the past few years hasn’t changed that much, gradually evolving with the introduction of new songs rather than offering many surprises from the band (and Jeff Tweedy’s) expansive back catalog. And so it figures that just when I’m starting to get a bit complacent in my appreciation for Wilco (I like – but don’t love – SBS), they turn around and remind me why and how much I love the band.

I thought they were tight before, but somehow, somewhere, they managed to find yet another level and make it seem effortless. I had thought that I might be tired of hearing the same songs as the past shows played yet again but not so – I still got excited at the opening drum fills of “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart”, the crashing crescendo of “Via Chicago”, Nels Cline’s sublime solo to wind out “Ashes Of American Flags”… I guess I forgot it’s not just the song, it’s the performance. As mentioned, this was the final date of the current tour and as such, the band was in a particularly loose and jovial mood, joking and goofing about. Moreso than any other time I’ve seen them, they seemed to be having an obscene amount of fun onstage and that carried over to the audience, who were basking in the glow of a band of supremely talented musicians in absolutely top form. Tweedy was chattier than ever, calling us the best audience of the tour (a nice change from being chewed out for being too polite), flaunting his t-shirt emblazoned with the words “Sellout” during “Hummingbird” (sponsored by Volkswagen?) and inciting Pat Sansone to take on Cline in a guitar solo showdown during show finale “Hoodoo Voodoo”. Normally I’d say anyone who goes six-string gunning for Nels Cline is a fool and a half but damn if Sansone didn’t hold his own.

Since their August 2004 show at the Mod Club, that has been my indisputable best Wilco show – how could you possibly top the specialness and intimacy of seeing them play a 550-capacity club? Well it took almost three years, but they did it. MAN did they do it. What a night.

The Toronto Sun and The Globe & Mail have reviews of the show.

Photos: Wilco, Low @ Massey Hall – June 30, 2007
MP3: Wilco – “What Light”
MP3: Low – “Breaker”
Video: Low – “Breaker” (YouTube)
Video: Low – “Belarus” (YouTube)
Video: Low – “Hatchet” (YouTube)
Video: Low – “Breaker” animated version (YouTube)
Video: Low – “In Silence” (YouTube)
MySpace: Wilco
MySpace: Low

The Sun has an expletive-laced interview with Ryan Adams that manages to touch on the usual expletive-inducing topics: his substance abuse, label difficulties and his prolificness.

Meanwhile, The Sydney Morning Herald has a typically monosyllabic conversation with J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr.

The Vancouver Sun has a conversation with Band Of Horses’ Ben Bridwell, who will be at Lee’s Palace on August 11 and whose second album is due out in October – details at Pitchfork.

Glide talks to Jason Isbell about his solo debut Sirens Of The Ditch, due out July 11. He’s got a show at the El Mocambo on July 24.

Somehow Spinner knew I’m about two hours away from having season four of The Wire downloaded as they pointed to this MP3 of Tom Waits performing “Way Down In The Hole, aka the theme song of the show, accompanied by the Kronos Quartet in a 2003 live performance in support of the Healing The Divide foundation.

MP3: Tom Waits with The Kronos Quartet – “Way Down In The Hole”

CMJ has got Fall tour dates for Brazilian dance-rockers Bonde Do Role including a date in Toronto on September 19 at the Cabaret… which begs the question – where’s the Cabaret?

Happy Canada Day statutory holiday day, everyone! Unless you’re working today in which case… sucks to be you!

By : Frank Yang at 9:02 am
Category: Uncategorized
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  1. Thierry says:

    Wow, the Sun and the Globe wrote some pretty remarkably bad (not negative) reviews of one of the best rock shows I have ever seen, but yours sounds just about right. While the setlist included all the usual songs from YHF and AGIB, they sounded 100% better than last year – I didn’t think that was possible – and the stuff that hasn’t appeared as regularly in recent sets ("Ashes of American Flags" and "Hoodoo Voodoo") was positively transcendent. I guess no one can question Jeff Tweedy’s lineup changes now – this is the best group of musicians on the planet right now, bar none. As you said, what a night.

  2. ryan says:

    I agree with your Wilco review whole-heartedly. After reading the Sun and Globe reviews, I’m upset that both neglected to mention Low, who absolutely killed. When Alan and Mimi hit the chorus on "Take Your Time" I thought the apocalypse had hit. Hair-standing-on-end stuff.
    Truly two of America’s greatest bands.

  3. mike says:

    My review of the show should be up later today but I pretty much agree with you about Wilco. Even better than The National’s show at The Opera House. Maybe it was just because my vantage point was better this time compared to their show at Massey Hall last year(ie 2nd floor balcony centre right compared to 2nd floor balcony left side) but it appeared that the band put A LOT more energy into the performance this time around. Nels was a pure joy to watch. And getting a good view of Glenn’s drumming this time, I realized how intricate and tight his drumming really is.

  4. bigshoulders says:

    nice review of the show! like yourself, i was actually looking forward to seeing LOW when they opened for them in Charlotte on 20-JUN. but alas, the crowd simply wasn’t into them all that much. maybe it would have been different if Nels had sat in with them, i dunno. but i enjoyed their set, only wished the tempo had been a little faster, is all.

    they are getting extremely tight, are they not? that was my 15th time seeing them… and they are only getting better. routine? hardly. until next time…


  5. tim j says:

    We saw them the night before in Shelburne, VT, and I’d be damned if they didn’t put on one hell of a show that night, but it sounds like they one-upped and gave you guys a great treat. Your setlist was very different from ours — we didn’t have Hoodoo Voodoo, Ashes of American Flags or probably a lot more. It was a family-friendly affair so there was no cussin’ — also heavy on the hits, so to speak, but the mood was beautiful, the sun was setting behind them beyond the mountains, and it was just Wilco, a rolling pasture, and the audience.

    You’re right — they are tighter than I’ve ever seen them. This was also my 9th time seeing them, and I share your feelings about "is this just becoming routine?" However, my wife and I fell in love over Wilco and now we have a 1 year old daughter, and this was her first concert ever. She wasn’t alone in sharing that distinction, either, as we saw tons of babies and kids. So many, in fact, that Jeff made the comment that he’s never seen so many kids at a show.

    Excellent review, and I’m glad to know that if we ever decide to road trip some shows out Toronto way, we’re in for a great show.