Back in December, when I flew into Chicago for New Year's Eve, the woman sitting next to me on the plane asked what could possibly bring me to the Midwest in the dead of winter. And to be honest, I asked myself the same thing before making my second (though not last) trip to Chicago for 2008. Of course, the answer remains the same.
Wilco, Riviera Theatre, February 15-20, 2008: I had originally planned to blog each night of Wilco's winter residency, but the combination of fatigue, hypothermia, joy, and the amnesia brought on by all the above nixed such plans. (Small mercies.) And now, four days, 2,000 miles, and several doses of Theraflu later, the whole week seems like a ridiculous, delirious, and cold dream.
Though that's not to say that these shows have already been shoved haphazardly into the memory banks. Instead, random moments and asides bubble up at such a rate that I'm having a hard time organizing my thoughts for this review. There's no way I can cover all the great snippets and snapshots that took place during these five shows, but I'm thankful that the Web is likely littered with dozens of other first-hand accounts and several recordings of the run.
I guess the first thing to say is that it the shows were fantastic and worth every second spent shivering, dancing, jogging, and hopping on the sidewalk. Though the band's goal for this residency was explicitly stated (to work their way through their entire catalog), surprises still awaited. For example, we may have known they eventually had to get to the formerly disavowed "Can't Stand It" and "Nothing'severgonnastandinmyway(again)," but that didn't take away from the force of the songs once they hit our eardrums. And far from being rote dispensations, these songs surfaced two or more times over the span of the residency.
I could cite as many great songs performed as you'd allow, but I have to single out certain titles: the haunting "Dash 7," the effervescent "Outta Mind (Outta Sight)," the truly unexpected "My Darling," the room-rousing "It's Just That Simple," and the twisting, twisted "Dreamer in My Dreams"--what the hell, just about every song from Being There. But even the songs played each night, such as "Impossible Germany" and "Hate It Here," provided new opportunities to watch the band's evolving interaction with and investment in the tunes (see for yourself how many band members besides the singer are mouthing the lyrics).
Oh, and that band--adding to their typical repertoire of guitars, keyboards, and drums were loons, owls, thingamagoops, sleigh bells, chimes, and probably a bunch of other things I couldn't identify. There were also amps to jump off, tears to be wiped away, and big hugs shared. In short, they were having a grand old time, and in effect, so were we.
But wait! There's more! Wandering in from stage left, Andrew Bird added his touch to as many songs as he wanted, but I especially loved his (duh) whistling contributions. The duet with Jeff on "Red-Eyed and Blue" was another one of those dreamy moments, but he threw himself into titles you wouldn't expect, such as the extended drone on "Less Than You Think."
Rounding out the ensemble were the Total Pros, at times accompanied by Becca Michalek on saxophone. I'd especially like to thank them for their part in bringing the sublime "Pieholden Suite" to fruition.
I'm glad to finally be home, and I can say in all sincerity that I hope to never see or need another set of Hot Hands or Toastie Toes again in my life. But who am I kidding? I'll pack 'em in should the second annual residency come back to town.