Never have I seen a man more possessed by his electric guitar than lead Wilco guitarist Nels Cline. A legendary guitar virtuoso in his own right, there’s no question he stole the show last night at the Halifax forum. The venue was small, but it fit the 2000 or so people in very nicely. I was dead center and could literally reach my hand out and touch the stage, save the anal security guards (who did a fine job controlling the mayhem). The arena air was thick with the smell of pot, sweat and body odor. I had to pee the entire night, but I wasn’t going to leave the best spot in the house. My bladder hurt quite a bit later, but the pain was worth it.
I arrived to the show 3 hours before the doors opened. A good friend of mine got there just before me and was chatting with another die-hard Wilco fan. I think his name was Shant. He was an interesting character and had plenty of stories about past shows he’s been to. He once ate dinner with Ben Folds and saw Radiohead on their OK Computer tour back in 1997. We were the only ones for a half hour or so. We were fortunate to hear Wilco’s sound check through the glass doors. They practiced Ashes of American Flags and Can’t Stand It. This was a welcome treat as it was beginning to get cold. A teenager named Gavin and another woman (his mother maybe), hung out with us and we shared our love for Wilco together, asking how the other became a fan and what his or her favorite song was.
After an hour, the wind picked up and it started to flurry. My friend Jonathan was losing circulation in his middle finger on his right hand, so we quickly paced over to a grocery store and bought some hot coffee and food. Jonathan was given a hot chocolate on the house. We now had our beverages and headed back to the forum doors.
About 20 people showed up in the 15 minutes we were gone, but thanks to our newfound friends, we easily secured our spot at the front of the makeshift line. And after hours of pleasant conversation, the doors opened. I was the first ticket buyer in and walked alone to the front. It was a moment of bliss. I took my coveted spot and anxiously waited for the music to begin.
The Bahamas, a two-man group from Toronto, opened up for Wilco with an energetic albeit breezy set. I was very impressed with Afie Jurvanen’s guitar playing. This band is definitely worth a listen and they made sure the fans knew that.
Wilco took to the stage at 10 p.m. to a raucous crowd cheering and hooting. Within seconds, the band ripped into the Wilco the Song, the self-titled first track off their latest album, also named after themselves. It was a good opening tune and set the mood for the rest of the evening. Following this, the Summerteeth staple Shot In The Arm had the crowd singing at the top of their lungs. It must be a great feeling to have 2,000 people sing your songs back to you. Judging from Jeff Tweedy’s smile, I knew he was loving every second.
The boisterous and stringent Bull Black Nova sounded better live while the bluesy You Are My Face showed the band’s amazing chemistry.
Expected songs such as I Am Trying To Break Your Heart, One Wing and Via Chicago did not disappoint. Via Chicago had an impromptu furious drum solo from Glenn Kotche, giving the folksy number new legs, arms and body armour.
After Tweedy played the opening chords to Impossible Germany, the fans all had one thing on their mind: Nels Cline elongated shredding solo. At one point during the song, Tweedy was making serious eye contact with a woman who was allegedly videotaping the show. True Wilco fans know that is a serious offence against the band. Tweedy’s dead stare made me glad I wasn’t in his line of fire.
From Mermaid Avenue came the acoustic three chord song California Stars; the song lyrics hail from Woody Guthrie with some Wilco tweaking. Handshake Drugs, You Never Know and a powerful, head-throbbing Misunderstood pumped the crowd up before descending back to earth for a rousing sing-a-long of Jesus, Etc. Tweedy stepped back from the microphone to let the crowd sing alone. That was probably the highlight of the night for me.
Wilco capped off the night with the Beatle-ish rocker Hate It Here, Walken and I’m the Man Who Loves You, a personal favorite. Tweedy put down his guitar and played the Mick Jagger role for Hummingbird, swinging and catching his microphone, to the crowds laughter. After saying goodnight, the roadies came on stage, tidied up some cords and mics and encouraged the crowd to shout “Wilco! Wilco!” The band returned to play an eight song set, which is listed below.
- The Late Greats
- Heavy Metal Drummer
- Can’t Stand It
- Casino Queen
- Hoodoo Voodoo
- I’m a Wheel
After the show, a roadie threw out some guitar picks used by Tweedy and I caught one! It was a fantastic end to a truly emotional and inspiring evening.
Thanks Wilco, and I hope you come back to Halifax.
For more Wilco pictures, visit my Flickr account.