Monday, August 22, 2016

Sunday in the Park with Wilco: Local Stalwarts Make for a Beautiful Night Under Chicago Stars -- Concert Review

Concert Review

w/ opening act Twin Peaks
Jay Pritzker Pavilion
Millennium Park, Chicago
August 21, 2016

When I bought my tickets to "see" Wilco Sunday night at Millennium Park--way back in February--I presumed I would be precluded from actually seeing the band onstage.

At the time I wasn't employed, and though I imagined it would be fun to catch Chicago's foremost band--at least until the original Smashing Pumpkins reunite, if rumors prove true--with my sister Allison and friend Paolo, lawn tickets for $30 + fees seemed far more reasonable than pavilion seats starting at $75 + fees.

And on a supremely beautiful night amid one of the city's most sublime public spaces, Wilco sounded terrific--thanks, I think, to the speaker system on Frank Gehry's lawn lattice, though I couldn't be certain the speakers were even on.

As you can deduce from the photos I took, on occasion I was able to walk down nearer the stage, see the band and snap some pix, and even watched the last 30 minutes of a nearly 2-1/2 hour show from a visual vantage point.

So in catching a fine performance from a band I've long liked--this was my 10th Wilco concert, plus a benefit gig by lead singer Jeff Tweedy in a living room--with a couple companions on an August night sans thunderstorms or even humidity, it would seem I have no complaints.

And I don't in terms of what and how Wilco played.

Yes, I would have expected more setlist variance from other shows on their 2016 summer tour, but this is the only one I attended so I fully enjoyed the well-paced mix of six songs from 2015's Star Wars album, two from the forthcoming (on Sept. 9) Schmilco--"If Ever I Was a Child" and "Locator"--and several gems from across the past 21 years.

These included "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart," "Hummingbird," "Spiders (Kidsmoke)," "Heavy Metal Drummer," "I'm the Man Who Loves You," "I Got You (At the End of the Century)" and "Outtasite (Outta Mind)." (See the full setlist here.)

It's hard to be a Wilco fan and not appreciate their folksy side, but as the songs I cited above bespeak, I like it best when they rock out. The hard/soft, fast/slow collided brilliantly on the apt, "Via Chicago," with the mostly low-key tune interrupted by thunderous blasts of sound and light (as best I could see).

The slow-build but ultimately fevered multi-instrumental buzz of "Art of Almost" had Paolo and I concurring about just how great a band Wilco is, in terms of the obvious skill all the members bring to their craft.

So while it was atypical for a band to close their show--and a big homecoming one at that--with a 8-song unplugged second encore (after having rocked pretty hard in the first encore), it demonstrated, impressively, that Wilco is confident enough to do whatever the hell they want.

And having songs as good and beloved as "War on War," "Passenger Side," "California Stars" and the closing "Shot in the Arm" certainly didn't hurt in mellowing out the appreciative crowd before sending them home happy.

Which all made for a really good show that well may have merited @@@@1/2 had I been able to see more of it.

As I said above, I didn't expect a spot on the lawn to provide a sightline to the stage. But having been to many a free concert at the Pritzker Pavilion where a video screen was employed, I expected that to have been the case in ponying up about $40 (with fees).

I imagine not having any video screen may have been Wilco's choice, especially as a pretty elaborate light show comprised their stage backdrop. (Hence the impracticality of a screen right behind them, as was used at a Bob Mould concert in 2014, among others.)

But between the promoter, park district or whoever oversees these things, I think something should have been devised to let fans on the lawn readily see the happenings onstage. I recall when Gehry designed the visually dynamic bandshell, he reasoned that video could be projected on the top front of it, but I've never seen that done.

I know that, especially for area concertgoers enamored with Ravinia, the idea of going to a concert and simply hearing the band isn't that unusual, but it has never been my preference. (I like that Ravinia has added a lawn video screen but now try to only go if I can get an affordable pavilion seat.)

No offense to Tweedy, guitarist Nils Cline, drummer Glenn Kotche, bassist John Stirratt and the other band members, but Wilco isn't the most exciting band to look at, so it was far from a waste of time to primarily just hear them. In fact, it was often cool just to stare at the sky and appreciate the music.

But next time, a video screen or two would definitely be welcome, particularly if I'm not in a better position to put myself in a better position.

Opening the show was a far newer Chicago band called Twin Peaks, devoid of any obvious homages to
David Lynch.

A music-loving friend of mine has championed them, and it turns out that guitarist/vocalist Cadien Lake James is the son of a Facebook friend of Paolo's.

I had familiarized myself a bit via a Spotify Session the band had done, and everything sounded good out in the park, including "Walk to the One You Love," a single from their third album, Down in Heaven, released in May.

Paolo suggested Twin Peaks sounds like the Dandy Warhols, while I sensed some familiarity with Weezer, with a bit of discordance reminiscent of Sonic Youth and references to the Velvet Underground and Rolling Stones.

Showcases like this one should only help the band build their presence, and while they'd be quite fortunate to build a career with the breadth, depth and fan loyalty of Wilco, it's not impossible to imagine one day I could see Twin Peaks headlining the Pritzker Pavilion.

Or at least hear them.

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