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Wilco Carries a Big Stick

July 26th, 2012

Wilco – Terminal 5 – July 25, 2012


Walk softly and carry a big stick. That’s Wilco in a nutshell. The veterans of that-was-awesome rock shows swept through NYC this week, wrapping up the third of three sold-out shows in the city last night at Terminal 5 with an aw-shucks ease despite delivering two-and-a-half hours of heavy-hitting rock and roll. The band started on that soft side, boldly going quiet with a meditative “One Sunday Morning,” off last year’s The Whole Love. The normally raucous cavern of T5 was almost silent as Wilco layered subtle melodies, with guitarist Nels Cline adding fills that were the sweet-and-sour sips of lemonade on a summer day—which is to say, perfect. They followed this with the first of many “big sticks,” including “The Art of Almost,” which was everything the opener wasn’t: loud, intense, modern.

From there the band fell into their tried and true formula for live-show success—newer songs, older songs, big and bombastic, small and quiet and sometimes all of these at the same time. “At Least That’s What You Said” was an early highlight, with frontman Jeff Tweedy delivering the opening stanzas in his sweet, ragged voice and then Cline and drummer Glenn Kotchke exploding into the anthemic second half. Those in attendance had a veteran feel. Knowing they were in for the long haul, they reserved their energetic applause for the true high moments. Most of these centered around Cline’s superlative guitar playing, beautifully drawling pedal steel on “What’s the World Got in Store” and then an impossibly dizzying solo, fittingly, on “Impossible Germany” that would have tied knots in a lesser guitarist’s fingers. And while the band certainly mixed up the set lists over the course of the three local shows, there’s no reason you wouldn’t want to hear the triumphant two-guitar climax of “Impossible Germany” every night.

Tweedy’s banter was more like meta-banter, asking everyone if they were “doing all right” and then riffing on how canned that was. “That’s all I can offer as a frontman,” he quipped. The show wound down in epic fashion with a cosmic, psychedelic take on “Not for the Season” doused in blue and green lights, a crowd-pleasing “Theologians” and a gong-infused “I’m the Man Who Loves You” leading up to the set-closing cacophony of “Shot in the Arm.” As always, Wilco saved plenty of ammunition for an extended encore, tacking on nine more songs over the course of two well-deserved encores, including favorites like “Passenger Side,” “Casino Queen” and a rather rocking “Kicking Television.” In the end, though, walking softly won the night: Tweedy brought things back down for a show-closing “The Lonely 1.” With Cline back on steel guitar, it matched the perfect quiet beauty of the opening tune, bringing things full circle and almost feeling like they could do it all over again in similarly epic fashion. —A. Stein

Photos courtesy of JC McIlwaine | jcmcilwaine.com