WILCO: Gig Review, The Barrowlands, Glasgow, 16/9/2010

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Nine more songs

When I was first asked to review Wilco at a venue called The Barrowland in Glasgow, the name evoked the melancholy mood of The Decemberists Eli the Barrow Boy crossed with the supernatural menace of the barrow-wights in Lord of the Rings. Much to my relief, the venue – with its high, star-adorned ceiling and its hardwood floor – turned out to be anything but gloomy.

 Sadly, the same couldn’t be said for the opening act, the self-titled solo project of Radiohead drummer Phil Selway. With vocals that are too low to enjoy but too high to ignore, the sentiment of Selway’s singing is lost amid his textured but timid musical accompaniment. “You are the quietest audience I’ve ever heard,” quips Selway after a downbeat track he jokingly refers to as his ‘rock song.’

 Between sets we push our way deeper into the crowd, which is comprised almost entirely of either middle-aged men or cutesy twenty-something couples.

 ‘Wilco 'r bigger than jesus,’ the woman ahead of me writes in a text message. Not that I’m looking or anything.

 The band takes the stage to the theme music of The Price is Right. No sooner are guitars in hand than they launch into Wilco (The Song). Their playing is perfect, their vocal levels are perfect. The house lights flash each time they sing the word ‘Wilco.’ Perfect. As they play Muzzle of Bees, a highly excitable group of lads to our left belt out every lyric, note, ooh, and ah. Surprisingly, their boisterous camaraderie only adds to the experience.

 Bull Black Nova is next. Guitarist Nels Cline takes some artistic license with his musicianship, to good effect. I Am Trying to Break Your Heart. All we’re lacking now is some performer-audience interaction.

 One Wing. You Are My Face. As A Shot in the Arm begins, the erstwhile bluish stage lights turn orange and red in time for a fiery performance building up to a volcanic crescendo. There is a straight minute of applause before they can resume playing. This is, without a doubt, one of the (many) high points of the night.

“You’re my people!” proclaims singer Jeff Tweedy to an enthusiastic audience. “Are you grumpy too?” he asks sympathetically. The band launch into the Woodie-Guthrie-penned One by One, which is beautiful, complete with its country music twang. I’ll Fight is another high point, one of my favourite of their songs done delicious justice.

 “We love Wilco!” a fan hollers from the wall-to-wall packed ballroom.

“Well, presumably that’s why you’re here, sir,” Tweedy rejoins in his patiently meted out Midwest accent, before launching into another favourite, Handshake Drugs. 

 Fourteen songs in, and little did I know that the show had only just begun. Nine songs later you could easily get the impression from Tweedy and company that they’ve done this all before. As the gig draws to a close, however, it becomes apparent that they’re not leaving anything to habit.

 -Robert Peacock

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