Review by Greg Haymes
Wilco does ABBA…
Sounds like the premise for some half-baked “Saturday Night Live” routine, doesn’t it?
But it was for real, in front of thousands of fans at MASS MoCA’s Joe’s Field. Wilco was onstage bopping their way through “Waterloo,” in all its ’70s-pop glory, Jeff Tweedy just smiling at the absurdity of it all.
“This is all your fault,” Tweedy proclaimed. “You asked for it – all requests…”
Back to host their third Solid Sound Festival at MASS MoCA in North Adams, Wilco obviously wanted to do something different, something unique. So they decided to cap off the festival’s opening night with something they’d never done before – an all-request concert. Via social media, fans had been invited to submit requests for songs that they’d like to hear Wilco play. Some fans simply submitted a request for their fave Wilco song or some Wilco rarity. But most went straight for the concept of cover songs.
And Wilco got plenty of responses – 76 pages of requests, according to Tweedy. In the weeks prior to the fest the band whittled down the suggestions, learned a batch of the songs and on Friday night (June 21) they played more than two dozen of them in a what-the-hell-are-they-gonna-play-next performance that’s not likely to ever be duplicated. By anyone…
After taking last year off from the business of festival-organizing in order to concentrate on touring in support of their new album, The Whole Love, Wilco opened Solid Sound III with a rock-solid and oh-so-appropriate rendition of Thin Lizzy’s “The Boys Are Back in Town,” with Tweedy and Nels Cline reeling off a lovely twin-guitar lead.
And they were off…
They whipped through Pavement’s “Cut Your Hair” and a cowbell-fueled rendition of Big Star’s “In the Street,” followed by the country twang of “New Madrid” (originally by Tweedy’s old band Uncle Tupelo) and the Stones’ “Dead Flowers,” the latter with Cline switching over to pedal steel guitar.
Comedian John Hodgman – in the role of a somewhat smarmy TV game show host – interrupted to throw an element of surprise into the proceedings with the Randomizer, allegedly selecting random songs for the band to perform. his first selection seemed genuine, as the boys got off to an understandably tentative rendition of the Grateful Dead’s “Ripple,” which then fell about when Tweedy forgot the lyrics. “When you see us struggling up here, you need to help out,” Tweedy jokingly chastised the crowd.
After a pretty fair version of the Beatles’ “And Your Bird Can Sing,” Tweedy stepped up to the mic and asked the crowd, “Was that good enough, or should we do that one again? That was so much fun, and it was so much work for just two minutes.” So they played it again.
Tweedy didn’t really dig into the Count Five’s garage-rock nugget “Psychotic Reaction,” but it provided a great opportunity for a Nels Cline guitar freakout.
And there were special guests to help out along the way, too. For Yo La Tengo’s “Tom Courtenay” Wilco was joined by none other than Yo La Tengo themselves. And the sparkly clad glam-gals from Lucius – Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig – hopped onstage for the back-to-back pairing of the Kinks’ “Waterloo Sunset” (one of Tweedy’s best vocal performances) and ABBA’s “Waterloo.” “We took these things seriously,” Tweedy proclaimed, “Very seriously.” Finally, Tommy Stinson strapped on his guitar to help Wilco tear through the Replacements’ classic “Color Me Impressed.”
Television’s “Marquee Moon” was another alleged selection from the Randomizer, but I think this had to be a set-up, because Wilco’s epic, spring-coiled, 11-minutes-plus rendition turned out to the centerpiece of the concert. Simply magnificent…
With Hodgman hosting a Stump the Band segment, onstage audience members stumped Wilco with requests for “Atonement” by Lucinda Williams and “Dreams” by the Cranberries, but that seemed to be pretty much just a set-up for Wilco to romp through Daft Punk’s current dance-floor hit, “Get Lucky,” which turned into one giant sing-along.
Eventually, the band did actually get around to playing a Wilco song, “Kingpin,” at the request of Hodgman, before wrapping up the two-and-a-half hour show with another Big Star gem (“Thank You Friends”) and encores of the Band’s “The Weight” (again joined by Lucius) and the Modern Lovers’ “Roadrunner” (“your state song,” declared Tweedy) with help from Yo La Tengo.
All in all, it was a glorious, sometimes silly, sometimes sparkling and often revealing batch of songs that made for a highly entertaining evening. Was it a great concert? Well, maybe not. I can’t imagine what someone might have thought about it all if it were their first exposure to Wilco. But was it great fun? Indubitably…
NOTE: NYCTaper currently has the entire Wilco all-request show available for streaming and download.
WILCO’S ALL-REQUEST SET LIST (6/21/13)
The Boys Are Back in Town (Thin Lizzy)
Cut Your Hair (Pavement)
In the Street (Big Star)
New Madrid (Uncle Tupelo)
Dead Flowers (The Rolling Stones)
Simple Twist of Fate (Bob Dylan)
Ripple (Grateful Dead)
Who Loves the Sun (The Velvet Underground)
And Your Bird Can Sing (The Beatles)
And Your Bird Can Sing (The Beatles)
Psychotic Reaction (The Count Five)
Tom Courtenay (Yo La Tengo) (with Yo La Tengo)
James Alley Blues (Richard “Rabbit” Brown)
Waterloo Sunset (The Kinks) (with Lucius)
Waterloo (ABBA) with Lucius)
(What’s So Funny ’bout) Peace, Love and Understanding (Nick Lowe)
Marquee Moon (Television)
Happy Birthday To You (for Pat Sansone)
(Don’t Fear) The Reaper (Blue Öyster Cult)
Cinnamon Girl (Neil Young)
Get Lucky (Daft Punk)
Surrender (Cheap Trick)
Color Me Impressed (The Replacements) (with Tommy Stinson)
Thank You Friends (Big Star)
The Weight (The Band) (with Lucius)
Roadrunner (The Modern Lovers) (with Yo La Tengo)
T-Shirt Slogans at Solid Sound