CONCERT REVIEW A Wild and Wet Performance: Downpour Adds Organic Effect to Wilco Concert

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Jeff Tweedy, the lead singer of Wilco, performs in Lowell, MA on July 11. Though the weather turned sour, it only made the sounds sweeter.
Alexander J. Reben

Edward Lelacheur Park
July 11, 2009

There’s no better way to spend a cool summer night than at an outdoor concert featuring one of your favorite bands. On July 11 I stood among excited fans at Wilco’s performance in Lowell, Massachusetts. The evening began as one of those rainless nights we seem to be getting so few of this summer in Boston, and I could only hope that the lack of precipitation would last through the performance.

Though Wilco played plenty of songs from its most recent album, the band jammed into the night with plenty of old favorites, including the well-known ballad “Jesus, etc.” Jeff Tweedy’s soothing-as-ever vocals prompted the chorus of the eager crowd. Tweedy further delighted a small group of fans by cheerily announcing they would be granting their request to hear “Nothing’severgonnastandinmyway(again),” an older, optimistic piece which led the crowd to jump to the beat. It was the perfect way to build up to the most spectacular ending to a concert I’ve ever witnessed.

It began with an uncharacteristically moody rendition of “Via Chicago,” with Tweedy crooning troubling lyrics from the start —“ I dreamed about killing you again last night / And it felt alright to me.” Only seconds into the piece, however, the sky lit up with lightning from an approaching storm, as if Mother Nature could feel the emotional tension in Wilco’s performance. The band played on, and Tweedy’s calm vocals and bassist John Stirratt’s harmony was suddenly punctuated by Glenn Kotche’s repeating chaotic drum, accented by flickering lights. The noise quickly fell back into cadence just as Tweedy’s vocals pushed into the beginning of the next verse. The effect was unintentionally extraordinary: It was as if Wilco was mimicking the imminent storm.

The band followed up with another popular piece — “Impossible Germany” — a song full of delicate and repeating instrumental phrases executed by Tweedy and guitarist Nels Cline. After the final verse was sung, Cline took the spotlight as he executed an intricate and brilliantly put together solo. The carefully crafted structure slowly melded into power chords, which blended effortlessly back into the repeating riffs of Tweedy and Stirratt. Despite minor hiccups in rapid-fire phrases, once the instrumentals fell back into rhythm, the audience burst into applause.

Rain had not yet fallen when the familiar tones of “Spiders (Kidsmoke)” began to fill the park. Though much of the song consisted of a steady beat provided by Stirratt, Kotche, and keyboardist Mikael Jorgenson and abstract whines of guitar, fans were ready for the energetic instrumental chorus. And sure enough, when the surge of sound came, we were all jumping to the beat, throwing our hands in the air. As the music wound down once again, Tweedy led the audience in clapping to the rhythm of the bass line until he was sure we’d be able to maintain the beat. However, a few minutes later, looking out into the night sky, Tweedy chuckled: “You guys are making it rain.” Indeed, the rain had finally come, and its volume only seemed to increase with the energy of the music. But the Wilco fans didn’t seem to mind; in fact, they seemed too pleased with the performance they were receiving to care, welcoming the precipitation with dancing and enthusiastic approval.

Wilco ended their set with one of my absolute favorite songs, “Hummingbird” from A Ghost Is Born. That made up for any negative sentiments I had about the rain. The rest of the audience seemed to have felt similarly; as soon as the distinctive piano chords rang out, the wet (and increasingly wetter) crowd began howling in excitement. Fans all around me started unabashedly singing along with Tweedy amidst what was now pouring rain. As the vocalist sang the last lines of the set, the precipitation reached its peak and so did the response from the crowd. Wilco fled the wet stage and stagehands rushed to shield equipment from the rain.

Though Wilco did a fabulous job of promoting Wilco with their energetic performances of new tracks, much of what made this concert great was the variety of albums they covered during their set. Furthermore, though purely by coincidence, the well-timed downpour enhanced their performance by adding an natural brand of special effects. Because of it, the concert truly was an experience unlike any other.