Wilco @ Orpheum -- 02/05/12

Ever since first hearing A Ghost is Born back on '04, I've been a fan of Wilco, but I would say somewhat of a casual fan; I've liked each album as they've come out, just had never had the chance to see them live. But last year's The Whole Love ended up being one of my favourite albums of the year, and given their live reputation, I knew there was no chance I could miss them when they came through town.

First up, though, was White Denim from Austin, Texas. They sounded very much like you'd expect them to given their name, with a southern rock feel, but also with bits of afrobeat, experimental and prog mixed in. They didn't have much of a stage presence, not saying anything until the end of the set, and the sound was a bit muddy, with indistinguishable vocals at times. But despite that, they put on a entertaining half-hour set, with some the audience calling for an encore when they wrapped up.

It wasn't long after that Wilco took the stage, decorated with what looked like hundreds of tissue-ghosts, draped down the back and hanging from the lighting. Some of them were over lights, but for the most part they were used as a makeshift projection screen, with the occasional abstract lights, fireworks or birds flying behind the band.
They opened, appropriately enough, with the beautiful "One Sunday Morning", a song that ebbs and flows for it's ten-plus minute length, and by the end of it they had the entire theatre rapt. From there they went on to play two hours of songs from their whole catalogue, with highlights being "Art of Almost", building to an incredibly intense ending; "Via Chicago" which featured a few spontaneous and thunderous drum solos, with drummer Glenn Kotche suddenly exploding on the kit; and one of my favourites, "I'll Fight".
It was nearly an hour before Jeff Tweedy addressed the crowd, joking that they had more pressing matters, and thanked us "for clapping". As the set went on he opened up a bit more, with a fake-psychic running gag, joking about the super bowl and lamenting on why it's "Canadian" instead of "Canadia" -- if only because it sounded awkward when he changed "California Stars" to "Canadia Stars". And as amazing a front-man as Tweedy is, it was lead guitarist Nels Cline who was close to stealing the show with his incredible skills, switch guitars on the fly, breaking out the pedal steel, and even the double neck guitar at one point -- but especially his phenomenal solo at the end of "Impossible Germany", another highlight of the set that almost literally blew some minds.

Several times throughout the night I had an ear-to-ear grin, and was just in awe at the entire show; the music, the band, the lighting and the stage setup, everything came together perfectly. And judging by the crowds' reactions, I wasn't the only one to think so. This will no doubt end up on a few theoretical 'best-shows-of-2012' list come the end of the year.

One Sunday Morning, Poor Places, Art of Almost, I Might, I Am Trying To Break Your Heart, One Wing, Radio Cure, Impossible Germany, Born Alone, Spiders (Kidsmoke), I'll Fight, Handshake Drugs, Via Chicago, California Stars, I Must Be High, Pot Kettle Black, Dawned On Me, A Shot In The Arm.
(encore) Whole Love, Heavy Metal Drummer, Walken, Red-Eyed and Blue, I Got You (At The End of the Century), Outtasite (Outta Mind).