Review by: Laura Beaulne-Stuebing | Photos by: Mark Horton –
Wilco’s a band that doesn’t sit still. The Chicago-based rock/country/alternative country band have been kicking it since 1994 and haven’t slowed down. And with an incredible set to close out Ottawa’s CityFolk festival Sunday night, it’s clear Jeff Tweedy and his team aren’t willing to rest, or rest on their hits over the past 20 years, to let “Art of Almost” and “Jesus, Etc.” carry them from show to show.
Every new album is different and they continue to experiment, still unafraid of breaking out into 10 minutes of scratchy, guitar heavy jams on a record. Star Wars, released this summer as a surprise to fans, is short and sweet, their most concise piece of work of late. This in itself is a departure from Wilco’s willingness to explore and let songs breathe, like with the meandering beauty of “Less Than You Think” from A Ghost Is Born or “One Sunday Morning (A Song for Jane Smiley’s Boyfriend)” from A Whole Love that clock in at about 15 and 12 minutes respectively.
For CityFolk on Sunday, a massive crowd of Ottawa residents got to see and hear Stars Wars in full, from the first jarring scratches of “EKG” to the last notes of “Magnetized” on a beautiful, cool September evening. It was an introduction to the album for many, and for those who’ve spent time with Star Wars, an opportunity to see the band bring an energy into the songs that doesn’t quite come through on the recorded album. And then they jumped into their back catalogue.
It’s hard to say what Wilco’s best songs are — every fan will have different favourites, and after nine albums and 20 years as a band, there’s plenty to choose from. Tweedy and company hit many of the good notes, starting with “Forget the Flowers” from 1996’s Being There, “Handshake Drugs” from the immeasurable A Ghost is Born released in 2004 and a brooding rendition “Art of Almost” from 2011’s The Whole Love. They played some old stuff, as Tweedy noted as he charmed the crowd, to show how much they’ve changed and grown as a band in two decades.
“Jesus, etc.” and “Heavy Metal Drummer” from Yankee Hotel Foxtrot were impressive, but the real winner Sunday night was “Impossible Germany,” from 2007’s Sky Blue Sky. The second last song of the set, and one of the band’s best songs — certainly the selling point of Sky Blue Sky — was greater than the recorded version, bigger in real life than anyone could expect. Guitarist Nels Cline shred the crowd to pieces, with that undeniable solo that comes in at about 2:45 in the song, almost sly, almost nonchalant, building until Tweedy joined him in the instrumentals, building and building until that big release at the end of the jam.
Wilco closed the night with “The Late Greats,” wrapping up at exactly 10 p.m. Tweedy didn’t give the crowd an encore, despite shouts of dismay from the audience when the lights went up and it was clear the show was over. But the show really isn’t over, and when Wilco comes back to the nation’s capital, they’ll have more impressed fans to play for.
Click here to see more Cityfolk 2015 coverage!