Wilco doesn't need special effects or a theatrical set for its live show. What other bands look to produce with those high-budget concert accessories, this one offers in the stage charisma of its frontman, Jeff Tweedy.
Of course, special guest performers like Feist, Grizzly Bear’s Ed Droste and Yo La Tengo don’t hurt, either.
Shrouded in a haze of red, white and blue lights, the band looked especially patriotic as it opened its two-encore set at Coney Island’s KeySpan Park Monday night (July 13). The concert had all the makings of a great American pastime, with fans crowded into a baseball field on a warm summer night, toting $7.50 beers and Nathan’s famous hot dogs. Tweedy and his bandmates played up the theme all night, at one point leading the crowd in a rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” The sight was American rock ’n’ roll at its finest, with one of the genre's most powerful live acts at the helm.
Wilco took the stage to the theme of “The Price is Right" and began its set with the cheeky, energetic “Wilco (The Song),” the opener from the band’s June 30 release “Wilco (The Album).” A haze of feedback signaled fan favorite “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart,” followed by “A Shot in the Arm,” the first of numerous songs from 1999’s “Summerteeth." The band then mellowed out and reminded fans of its status as an alt-country staple on the vintage favorite "At Least That's What You Said,” followed directly by the plucky crescendo of “Bull Black Nova,” from the new album.
Even on songs such as “Impossible Germany” from 2007’s “Sky Blue Sky,” which some have pegged as “muzack,” Wilco proved itself a bit nosier, a bit louder and a bit more engaged than could be ever captured on its records. The band worked through an extensive set list of songs old and new, favorites (a spirited sing-along of “Handshake Drugs”) and soon-to-be-favorites (“One Wing”) over two-and-a-half hourlong set.
Tweedy checked up on the crowd like a mindful father, making sure his fans were enjoying themselves and buttering them up with jokes and compliments (“You’re a very sexy audience,” he noted). He continued the charm on “Deeper Down,” as a twang of dreamy slide guitar from guitarist Nels Cline accented the song’s start-stop rhythms and whimsical harpsichord.
The crowd exploded in excitement when Wilco made its way through “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” standards, including the sullen “Jesus, Etc.” and spastic “I’m the Man Who Loves You.” Notably left out, however, was “Ashes of American Flags,” a track that shares its name with the band’s concert DVD released in April.
When it left the stage, Wilco was replaced by the Brooklyn Cyclones’ mascot Sandy the Seagull, clad in a Wilco baseball jersey and toting an air-gun that launched free T-shirts into the crowd. And when the band re-emerged for the first encore, it was joined by all-star guests. Feist took the stage to sing “You and I,” a folky, soulful duet between the Canadian singer and Tweedy that appears on “Wilco (The Album).” Ed Droste, the vocalist/guitarist of indie rock act Grizzly Bear, was next in line, adding harmonies alongside Feist on “California Stars” and “You Never Know," after which Tweedy joked, “You guys sound really good – you’re hired!”
Rounding out the guest list were members of opening band Yo La Tengo, who mixed perfectly with Wilco on “Spiders (Kidsmoke),” a jam session that rounded out the first encore. By then, two hours had gone by, but it was only after playing “The Late Greats” and “Hoodoo Voodoo" during the second encore that the Chicago band finally called it a night -- an epic one, at that.