Wednesday, June 22, 2005

At least that's what I said - Wilco and the Roots - Red Rocks, June 17, 2005

The pairing of The Roots and Wilco seemed both horribly mismatched and totally right at the same time. The prospect of seeing Wilco live almost made me throw down the cash to see them at Red Rocks. But the inclusion of the Roots made the show one of those shows you have to see, regardless of funds, vacation days available or transportation issues. The last time I saw a show at Red Rocks was 1995, where I saw Pearl Jam and Bad Religion. Trekking up the steep incline and seeing the huge, sloping sandy maroon rocks brought back a flood of nostalgia ... which was automatically broken by seeing the $6 price tag for Coors.

The crowd was mercifully light on the hipster side. The only people with horned-rimmed glasses were people who actually needed glasses. No trucker hats. No tongue-in-cheek heavy metal Dokken or Def Leppard t-shirts. The only presence that was ample was the throngs of pretty and fit girls and guys, which my female traveling cohort pointed out. However, with respect to the folks near the Red Rocks area, when you're surrounded by mountains, trails and altitude, you're going to get a workout whether you like it or not.

The Roots was the first band to take the stage. Things Fall Apart and their latest, most straightforward album, The Tipping Point are pure hip-hop albums, but as a live unit, The Roots turn into a rock/rap/jam/R&B party band. The addition of guitar god Vernon Reid could have been a misguided match (think Dave Navarro in the Red Hot Chili Peppers), but Reid's style fused perfectly with The Roots.

The only issue I had with the Roots performance (aside from brevity) was the heavy emphasis on covers. Sure, I loved hearing the Roots do a slamming cover of Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love" (a perfect vehicle for ?uestlove, one of the finest drummers in rock today), but the inclusion of a few other covers meant less time to hear material from Phrenology and Illadelph Halflife.

Wilco came on stage and began their first 'instant concert highlight' with "A Shot in the Arm." Jeff Tweedy looked out and commented about the amazing breeze he was feeling and how he couldn't believe they were playing in Red Rocks. After the affirming "Shot in the Arm," he went on to the more morose "Handshake Drugs," which he dedicated to his sister during a concert last year.

The setlist focused primarily from Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and A Ghost is Born, however, old-school fans were treated to a liberal helping of tunes from Being There during the encores. Even tunes from their Billy Bragg recording sessions made it into their set (however, crowd favorite "California Stars" was not included).

Judging by Tweedy's notorious perfectionist leanings and volatile temperament, Wilco's lineup will always be as stable as the tech market for graduating seniors. However, after seeing Wilco's performance Friday, you hope that the lineup will remain the same at least for another album or two. Drummer Glenn Kotche showed a genuine glee banging away to "I'm a Wheel" and "At Least That's What You Say." Fairly-new Nels Cline also fit in perfectly, at times looking like a grizzled Bob Dylan (circa era 1997). Tweedy's mood seemed to change throughout the show. Some tunes he sang with an infectious grin, affably looking over toward his fellow bandmates. Other times, he just seemed slightly bored. But still, it's a job, and after performing a few hundred shows, you're going to run into a few moments of boredom from show to show.

Wilco closed the set with "Spiders," perhaps the only song that really worked the crowd into a pogo-stomping frenzy. Around this time, the smell of pot - be it skunky, generic or sweet - was as prevalent as the fresh Colorado air. Wilco took the stage and began to play the opening bars of "Misunderstood," which at least a fifth of the crowd sang along with half-drunk heartfelt affirmation. The second encore, Tweedy and company looked like they didn't want to leave. Tweedy joked that he wanted to play a ton of more stuff. By the time the band came on for the second encore, about a tenth of the crowd had already began making tracks to the exits in hopes of avoiding traffic.

The show was worth the nine-hour trek. The only thing I was hoping for was a joint encore that would have brought The Roots back on stage. Wilco's live shows have been compared with jam-heavy bands such as the Dave Matthews Band and Widespread Panic. However, Wilco's focus rarely allowed them to go into extended jams and noodling. What Wilco's live set accomplishes, like Radiohead's live shows, is that it brings an organic warmth to some of their more sterile and perceived standoffish albums. It's enough to make a bookish techo geek reach for a bic lighter.

Current listening selections:

Wilco - A Ghost is Born

Prince - Sign O' The Times

Yo La Tengo - Prisoners of Love


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