Damn, what a band! I’ve seen Wilco so many times over the years, but they never cease to knock me sideways. And one of the great things – one of the many great things, actually – about tonight’s show at Latitude is that the audience is not one of those over-reverential and often weird crowds that have frequently freaked out Jeff Tweedy when he’s visited the UK.
Instead, it’s a big outdoor audience ready to appreciate Wilco as a great, celebratory rock band, one that’s far removed from the depressive navel-gazing stereotype that they’re sometimes lumbered with. For a start, they fucking rock. There’s a moment at the start of “I’m The Man Who Loves You” when Glenn Kotche – a drummer, you’ll note, with serious avant-garde credibility – stands up, sweat waterfalling off him, with his drumsticks in the air as if he’s just about to play “Back In Black”. It’s kind of ecstatic.
Tweedy, of course, has often been accused of being wilfully perverse. But the set he plays tonight consists of his most fulsome and direct rock songs. The band are looser and wilder than their recent shows at Shepherd’s Bush Empire which I blogged about over at Wild Mercury Sound. The “Sky Blue Sky” songs are now bent out of shape with great gusts of noise, and the jamming quotient has been upped without detracting from the sheer craftsmanship of Tweedy’s original work.
What this means, critically, is that the spotlight falls again and again on the lead guitar heroics of Nels Cline, another leftfield pin-up who has learned, after a few years on the road with Wilco, to embrace the seismic potential of classic rock music. Again and again, Cline shreds up Tweedy’s tunes with his needling, penetrative solos; in “Shot In The Arm”, “Side With The Seeds”, “Handshake Drugs”, even in “Walken”, when he waves his lap steel over his head then uses it to machine gun Kotche. By the final, extraordinary “Spiders (Kidsmoke)”, Tweedy wants a piece of the action too, and he’s sending the already freaked motorik epic off on a sputtering new tangent. It’s their “Dark Star” now (see, I promised a tenuous Dead comparison), ever-evolving, invariably breathtaking.
Great gig. It rained a tiny bit. No-one gave a fuck.