Wilco at the Orpheum Theatre, Boston (April 5, 2010)
The term “marathon” typically denotes pain, an ordeal that is suffered through rather than enjoyed. Aching feet, shortness of breath, probably bloody nipples. One of the things that keeps runners going is the endorphins, the opiates responsible for the “runner’s high.” When Wilco took the stage at 8:19 and ended 39 songs and three hours later, no one was complaining at all. The mission of enveloping everyone into the giddiness of a euphoric, shared experience was executed without fault. Maybe it was due to last year’s rain-shortened set in nearby Lowell; maybe it was just the overt energy the crowd brought. Whatever the reason, Jeff Tweedy and company delivered a stunning set that clearly denoted their prominence as a live band.
The current East Coast tour is billed as an evening with Wilco — an intimate affair and a fan’s delight. Perhaps no other set I can think of was succinctly defined by the opener and regular-set closer: “Wilco The Song,” which professes their love for the fans, and the dual-duty ending of Big Star’s “Thank You Friends,” a heartfelt paean to both their fans and to the late Alex Chilton.
In between, Wilco delivered on all fronts. You want to talk generosity? How about a 10-song acoustic set that was almost the length of most band’s full sets (and included “I Must Be High,” a song Tweedy said hadn’t been played in several years)? How about digging deep into the vault, for a John Stirratt-led “It’s Just That Simple,” off their debut? How about giving out free dinners to local swank hot spot Craigie On Main? They even surrendered the vocals on “Jesus Etc.,” and the sold-out house gave an impressive group sing-along that made Tweedy smile.
The highlights were many: the deep crimson lighting that gave visual heft to the “bloodier than blood” line in “A Shot In The Arm,” while Mikael Jorgensen attacked the keyboard with a pillow in each hand; the absolute wig-out soloing of Nels Cline on “Company In My Back”; the humor of Tweedy playing his acoustic guitar behind his head during “Heavy Metal Drummer.” Even a song like “Walken” came alive. I’ve never liked it much, but damned if by the ending the band hadn’t morphed into a modern-day version of the Allman Brothers, with Cline throwing down serious slide notes and general nostril-flared nastiness.
With this stretch of opener-free shows is spoiling Wilco’s fanbase, who will surely expect this sort of deluxe treatment going forward. They should be so lucky.