I've navigated these roads before, but driving through several states in the same amount of time it'd take me to get halfway up the coast back home is still a novel experience for this California resident. On this occasion, the interstate eventually led from Scranton to the charming suburb of Montclair, New Jersey, where Wilco played a pair of jaw-dropping shows at the Wellmont Theatre.
Wilco, Wellmont Theatre, April 2-3, 2010: I try to consider each concert I attend on its own merits, but it's hard to escape some high-water marks. I'll cite, once again, Wilco's five-night residency in Chicago. Simply, it was every Wilco nerd's dream--minus, perhaps, the wind chill--and it'll be hard to top those gigs. These New Jersey dates, however, came close to matching the energy and the expanse of the shows we saw during that blustery, punishing, and utterly unmissable week in February.
For one thing, in terms of sheer numbers, these two nights in New Jersey roughly equaled--and maybe even surpassed--what we heard in two nights at the Riv. The setlists were impressive too, ranging from rarities ("More Like the Moon") to three different covers to a whole mess of Summerteeth tracks. And we heard both "Outtasite (Outta Mind)" and "Outta Mind (Outta Sight)" during the same show!
Granted, the band carried off the same feat at the residency, but far be it from me to refuse another opportunity to take it in; for the acoustic version, John and Pat's especially sweet harmonies jumped out at me in a way I hadn't noticed before. Again, this may have everything to do with the fact that I've heard the full-band version live exactly once previously.
It really came down to the songs these nights, and I could drone on about the fantastic tunes. First off, let's talk Summerteeth: "Candyfloss," "Can't Stand It," "Nothing'severgonnastandinmyway(again)," "When You Wake Up Feeling Old," and "Summerteeth," complete with bird calls that transitioned into "Misunderstood." That last diptych, with its seamless segue from sylvan beauty to brute force, may be the most succinct encapsulation of Wilco's abilities you'll ever witness. My mix-making mind thinks the one-two punch of "Laminated Cat" and "Misunderstood" would pack a wallop, but I admit the band's sequencing tells a different--and effective--story.
Then there were titles I'd never heard before, such as the full-band versions of "Someday, Some Morning, Sometime" or their semi-acoustic take on "Dreamer in My Dreams." But they cast a new light on more familiar songs as well. For example, the look Jeff directed at Nels for the latter's acoustic work on "Spiders" was nothing short of admiration and, perhaps, awe. He wasn't the only smitten party; it seemed like more than half the band spent a good chunk of "Impossible Germany" with eyes locked on the guitarist as well.
Even a warhorse like "I'm the Man Who Loves You" was revealed for what it is: a grand excuse to shine the spotlight on Glenn and for the band to indulge in their version of showmanship. I'm not sure I've enjoyed any version of the song as much as the one from the second night at the Wellmont.
The tunes alone made me giddy enough, but the band seemed downright playful too. They managed to check off a few of the requisite Jersey stereotypes (Jersey Shore, the Mob, and Bon Jovi), even as local boy Mike wore his native credentials with pride. Over at the side of the stage, Nels bided his time with fancy dance moves while Jeff handled the solo on "Can't Stand It," and all hands were on deck for "I'm the Man Who Loves You," with John, Pat, and Mike picking up their usual tambourines and maracas, while Nels accepted a rattle-like implement from Glenn and Jeff picked up that wacky-looking harmonica that's recently joined his arsenal. I keep thinking that one of these days, I'll get to hear "It's Just That Simple" again, but John and Pat's shared lead vocals on "In the Street" kept that yen at bay.
I had resigned myself to a pretty quiet summer after all this early indulgences, but it looks like the schedule will become more interesting in a few months' time again. Until then, it's great to know that I've ended my journey with a couple of exemplary gigs and a countless number of awesome memories.
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