(Photo by Justin Borucki)
With a box set repackaging of the career redefining album, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, filling ears hearts and minds (and, yes, emptying wallets) at the moment, it was timely for Wind Back Wednesday to remind us about the other side of Chicago’s premier rock-meets-art band, their live performances.
In this 2007 show in Sydney, so much of what makes them special was on display. And it was glorious.
Enmore Theatre, April 21, 2007
IT BECAME CLEAR DURING HANDSHAKE DRUGS, an already impressive song in its 2004 recorded version but one about to be elevated.
Call and response guitars over a quasi-funky rhythm prodded each other on in a fluid, challenging conversation of equals, like watching two great intellects joust in a debate. Inexorably they built to another of the night's climaxes of pyrotechnics which looked at but never stepped over the line into indulgence, instead raising hairs on the back of the neck.
You could see people shake their heads in wonder, others had eyes fixed on the stage, smiles spreading, everyone thinking the same thing: "damn, that was incredible".
It wasn't the first and it wouldn't be the last time a song elicited that response on this night but it was during this peak that what had been sensed before became obvious: something was happening here, something pretty special.
The favourite cliche in the sporting world is "being in the zone": that time when all your moves happen so smoothly, so naturally that it is as if the racket/ball/club is merely an extension of your body and you don't need to think about the next step, it just happens, easily. In those moments, good shots become great ones; impossible gets fall into reach; the outrageous dare flies as easily a practice shot. At the Enmore, Wilco were in the zone.
Songs deliberately took turns which invited disaster but the surefooted playing nimbly stepped over and around obstacles. Solos seemed to ripple out of guitarists Nels Cline (who favoured a Robert Fripp-like flamboyance), Pat Sansone (who had some of the liquid moves of Fleetwood Mac's Peter Green) and singer/songwriter Jeff Tweedy (who fell somewhere in between, if you can imagine Television's Tom Verlaine joining the Eagles).
Three or four decades of music ebbed and flowed through almost every song. And no one blinked an eye at either gentle prettiness or outright wig out, or indeed merging the two.
As my friend said, just your normal Beatles-loving, Krautrock-digging, country rock band playing pop. Easy really.