What a great week of music—much of it outdoors, with unseasonably mild weather to make it that much better. The two-man storm-of-sound Black Keys flooded McCarren Pool last Thursday; Radiohead and a bunch of amazing-in-their-own-right-but-superfluous-in-the-moment openers pleased the masses at All Points West (which I missed, but with good reason); that bright Conor Oberst and his new Mystic Valley Band were pretty dang good at the Bowery Tuesday night and, bringing it full circle, Wilco put the icing on the cake at McCarren last night.
Word apparently got out that their set would start at 7 pm sharp, because it looked like nearly every one of the 3000 or so people who showed up had the same idea—“I’ll get there at 6:55”—which meant twenty-plus minute waits at the gate. Which was probably the reason the set didn’t actually get under way till closer to 8.
Jeff Tweedy’s band of Windy City slicksters, looking dapper as ever, opened up with “Via Chicago,” coaxing that cataclysmic ruckus they do so well, then braking on a dime into you-could-hear-a-pin-drop silence they do so well too, then returning to Brobdingnagian cacaphony, and then back again into a black-hole vacuum. It’s a tactic they’ve mastered, and no one else executes it quite as beautifully.
Wilco continued to slip seamlessly from their softer, gentler roots into their distorted proggish noise-scapes, showing off their range of ability and diversity of style. They gave equal attention to every album in their catalog including their Mermaid Avenue collaborations with Billy Bragg. I was repeatedly blown away by how they can take songs that sound so exquisitely produced on their studio recordings—such as the quasi-anthem “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart”—and pull them off in concert with the same degree of precision , exacting just as much of a visceral effect, if not more.
After fifteen songs, the sextet busted into the rave-ish extended dance mix, “Spiders (Kidsmoke).” I think that it’s safe to say that the crowd, which was dense with Wilco’s cultish devotees, would have been more than satisfied if that had been the end of things. But Wilco wasn’t done with Brooklyn just yet. They returned to the stage for an hour-long, eleven-song double encore that amounted to a surprise second set. This sequel included a lot of personal favorites—like “I’m the Man Who Loves You,” “The Late Greats,” and “Kingpin”—many of which were complemented by a trio of horns (referred to by Tweedy simply as the “Total Pros”) that had joined the band intermittently throughout the night.
Although Wilco initially held the mantle of alt.country pioneers in their early days, last night proved that their evolution—which shifted into high gear around the turn of the millennium—has brought us one of the best rock bands alive today. And, to answer Tweedy’s question that he howled last night, “Do you still love rock and roll?” Yes. Very much.
Photos by Jonny-Leather