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Wilco – Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow

Vespertine checks out the Americana giants and asks; what becomes the legend most?

I was looking forward to this gig but had one question: would a ‘sit down’ venue suit Wilco? Their songs straddle the line between complicated and direct, silken smooth and iron hard. They can rock, but they can also make music that has its internal dynamics and can be, for want of a better word, complicated. What works?

On the positive side the sound was wonderful and every note of every instrument was crystal clear. There was also the opportunity to appreciate the music which can be lacking in a more boisterous venue; the audience really did listen, and the band was able to play a long set with slower songs that maybe would have been lost in a difference setting. One could get ‘lost in music, caught in a trance’ should they wish. And why wouldn’t they wish?

On the down side? The atmosphere was warm, and appreciative but not partisan; and the band seemed unsure as to how well people were taking the set. Apparently the next night in Manchester they mentioned that the gig was great but they “didn’t know if anyone had liked it”…..this polite atmosphere can sometimes unsettle a more traditional rock band. The band seemed quieter than usual, and almost nervous.

As a surprise there was a fight! Yes a fight. A set-to. A disturbance. A pagger. One problem with seated venues is the endless stream of drunk folk getting up and down…clearly that was too much for one punter who took direct action. Not as extraordinary as the fight I saw at a Low gig (you read it right:  Low) but strange all the same.

Now to the music. The set was excellent in terms of pacing, variety and execution. The choice to open with ‘One Sunday Morning’ was inspired; the 9 minute acoustic tale was perfect to set the scene and according to my mole ‘got lost’ mid set which was where it was placed in later shows. The set drew mainly from more recent albums and the songs from new album The Whole Love were excellent live and helped bring the album into focus: on record it is quite thin (perhaps deliberately?) and 70s AOR sounding in its finish, but live the hooks and choruses are truly revealed. It made me go back and listen to the album with a new perspective.

The rest of the set was exactly what you’d want: ‘I Am Trying To Break Your Heart’, ‘Jesus etc’, ‘Handshake Drugs’, ‘Black Bull Nova’, ‘Impossible Germany’….the latter with a shredding solo from Nels Cline whose presence has really lifted the band these past few years. His musicianship raised everyone’s standard and the band are technically far better than the early shows I caught. Not a lot of old material but we did get ‘California Stars’ from Mermaid Avenue and ‘A Shot In The Arm’ from Summerteeth.

They ended with a beautiful take on‘Misunderstood’ from Being There and then were gone.

So a triumph of sorts…great set, great sound, great songs but a lukewarm reaction from fans more used to traditional venues. Maybe such a trade off is inevitable?

Image Copyright (c) Pinc Floit and used under Creative Commons.
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2 Responses

  1. I saw a reviewer in the Herald get slaughtered for a faultless review of Wico at the RCH where he described them as “awful”. Would have to agree.

    That was the 6th time I’ve saw Wilco and they beaten into submission by a substandard venue. It was a tense atmosphere, throughout. This was in contrast to their ‘Barraz’ show last September where they were momentous.

    Wilco, and the fans, where caught out by the strait-jacketed confines of the RCH. When Bull Black Nova got a blasting I, personally, felt like Jake Blues when he has the body-shaking revelation as James Brown sings in the church – I just wanted to jump about but to no avail.

    Wilco went throught the motions and the crowd gave them a good send-aff albeit more through relief at a tense 2 hours more than anything. I thought Tweedy was having a dig by screaming “I’d like to thank you all for nothing” at the end of Misunderstood.

    Wrong venue for an exceptional band on an unexceptional night.

  2. Totally agree Craig.

    I just cannot get going at a gig at the Royal Concert Hall. An acoustic set or a classical show – it’s wonderful. A rock concert – it doesn’t work.

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