Something for all the senses at Wilco show

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 118 views 

FAYETTEVILLE — The smell that wafted up from the surrounding agriculture farms didn’t damper the sound and spirit of Wilco as the alternative rock veterans bounced and blasted through a setlist of 26 songs, both new and old, Thursday night (May 10) at the Arkansas Music Pavilion.

From the moment they opened the show with “Misunderstood,” off their 1996 album Being There, the band instantly engaged in its trademark sound where delicate acoustic bliss often meets grinding noise and dissonance.

Singer and songwriter Jeff Tweedy founded Wilco in 1994 after the dissolution of his former pioneering alternative-country group Uncle Tupelo. Since those early days, the band has seen many lineup permutations, but in terms of pure musicianship, the current collective, together since 2004, is hard to top.

Tweedy swaps guitars, both acoustic and electric, as often as the crowd yelps, and he soothes and scorches in equal measure with his trademark gravelly vocals. Nels Cline, a legend among experimental guitarists, offsets Tweedy’s more traditional playing with an orchestra of roaring lead he is able to conjure from both his unique techniques and his litany of on-stage effects.

John Stirratt has been with Tweedy since Uncle Tupelo, holding down the low end on bass guitar, as well as performing backup vocal duty.  Glenn Kotche joined the group in 2001, and brought his highly distinctive drumming into the fold. Keyboardist Mikael Jorgensen, a long-time Chicago studio engineer, joined the group in 2002, followed by multi-instrumentalist Pat Sansone, who contributes guitar, keyboards, backing vocals, and the best windmill guitar motion since Pete Townshend.

The thousands in attendance at the AMP responded most vocally to the band’s older material from albums like the aforementioned Being There, as well Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and A Ghost Is Born. One of the more memorable songs was “Via Chicago”, a tune that still stands out in modern musical climes as a doom-laden (“I dreamed about killing you again last night, and it felt alright to me”) acoustic ballad interspersed with sections of howling, gut-wrenching blasts of noise from Cline’s guitar rig and Kotche’s cymbals, before ending in a reaffirming “I’m coming home” refrain. 

In direct contrast to “Via Chicago,” another highlight was the laid-back pop number “Impossible Germany,” off the band’s 2007 Sky Blue Sky album.  Tweedy, Cline and Sansone interlaced their three guitars to perfection, with Cline showing he can also take more traditional lead guitar work to particular heights.

Unlike the band, whose reputation is almost above scrutiny, the AMP, as a venue, has its hits and its misses. The tent itself is visually interesting, the sound is full and balanced, the staff is friendly and helpful, and the grounds and equipment seem to be well cared for.  However, the smell is near repugnant.  It was like watching a show inside a horse barn.

The band members didn’t seem too fazed by the odor, as they rounded off the night with not just one, but two lengthy encores, sending the boisterous crowd home with ears buzzing from the sonic assault, mouths humming those accomplished melodies and minds discerning Tweedy’s poetry-cum-lyrics.

The AMP’s 2012 season continues on June 1 with country singer Luke Bryan.