Live at Crossroads KC at Grinder’s on a cool Missouri August night, the quintessential American band turned the heat up—way up.
TEXT BY DANNY R. PHILLIPS / PHOTOS BY KAREN PRUITT
There was a feeling in the air at Crossroads KC, walking through the gate. Crowd, band, even the temperature was cool for a Missouri August night. Everything was in its place; the stage was set for one of the shows that will forever be burned into my brain, scorched in with the power of 1000 wood burners.
Worth noting: I’ve been down lately, way down; so down, in fact, that I thought nothing could save me. Maybe a good rock show is what was in order to shake this feeling. My fuck, did Wilco give me the show I needed. Not only was it a great show, but it was quite possibly the greatest show I had seen in years, perhaps eons.
Wilco came out strong with “More” from the recent Star Wars, a melodic nod to the weird selections in the John Lennon solo catalogue. Airy and flowing on a level that Radiohead couldn’t have pull off in their prime. Bleeding into “Random Name Generator,” also from Star Wars (they got the new shit out of the way from the gate), the boys turned everything to 12, taking a song that hadn’t held with me on the studio version, turning it into a jam that most 20 year olds couldn’t pull off.
By the fourth song in, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot’s “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart” I could tell the band was locked in, what we were in for; the crowd sang along as Tweedy lamented “This is not a joke so please stop smilin’/what was I thinking when I said it didn’t hurt?” All in attendance were seemingly of one mind, singing the heartbreaking words of a man that, my friend/Wilco superfan F. T. Boley, calls the modern-day Woodie Guthrie. “He (Tweedy) is truly the Dylan/Guthrie/Springsteen of my generation. In my opinion, he has earned a spot on the Mt. Rushmore of American singer-songwriters.”
Bold words but, just then Nils Cline unloaded a wall of sound so immense around “The Art of Almost,” while the rest of the band followed, shaping their phrasing to fit together with a piece or two missing, ramshackle in a way that the most avant garde of players would envy. Later, Cline would dampen panties and make guitarist weep with his solo on “I’m the Man Who Loves You.”
Scattering through the night were greats like “Impossible Germany,” “Handshake Drugs,” the now classic “Box Full of Letters” from the debut gem AM, “Jesus, etc.” Bassist John Stirratt took over lead vocals for one song, their country flavored winner “It’s Just that Simple,” they even rolled out the beautiful “California Stars,” and many more, nearly three hours in total, a straight-ahead run through all phases of their career as a unit.
And, as if the set lied before us on this full moon night, wasn’t good enough, the band returned to the stage for a six song, all acoustic encore including “It’s Just That Simple,” “Shot in the Arm,” a cover from Tweedy’s time in the influential Uncle Tupelo (“We’ve Been Had”) and a heartbreaking Monkees hinting “I’m Always in Love.”
It’s passé at this point in Wilco’s career as a band, at this point as musicians for one more journalist, one more person, one more fan to site Wilco as America’s best rock band. But, son of a bitch, I find myself falling in the same honey trap; that even in my coldest of hearts, I have been convinced that this sentiment shared by so many is not a mere belief but a set in stone, undisputed fact. If one were to doubt the sincerity of my conviction, all you needed to do was be part of the crowd last night. They sang along, some cried, while others reveled in the perfect noise blasting from the stage.
Random Name Generator
The Joke Explained
I Am Trying to Break Your Heart
Art of Almost
King of You
If I Ever Was a Child
Box Full of Letters
Heavy Metal Drummer
I’m the Man Who Loves You
Red-Eyed and Blue
I Got You (At the End of the Century)
The Late Greats
It’s Just that Simple
We’ve Been Had (Uncle Tupelo cover)
I’m Always in Love
Shot in the Arm