Artpark, Lewiston, N.Y., July 19, 2009
Wilco (the song) / ELT / I Am Trying To Break Your Heart / Shot In The Arm / At Least That’s What You Said / Bull Black Nova / Radio Cure / One Wing / Handshake Drugs / Deeper Down / Impossible Germany / Jesus, etc. / Sonny Feeling / Can’t Stand It / Hate It Here / Walken / I’m The Man Who Loves You / Hummingbird

E1: Misunderstood / Spiders (kidsmoke)

E2: The Late Greats / Heavy Metal Drummer / California Stars / Hoodoo Voodoo / I’m A Wheel

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A couple details you don’t see in the set list: California Stars was supported by Conor Oberst and the entire Mystic Valley Band (Tweedy: “They all have shaker things — and a banjo? What the hell?”).  And what I think is a relatively new arrangement of Hoodoo Voodoo featured a Lovelight kind of riff and a cheesy-but-exhilarating guitar duel between Nels Cline and Pat Sansone.

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The stuff from Wilco (the album) was excellent. I knew we’d hear Wilco (the song) as the opener — they’ve placed it there every show this summer. Bull Black Nova has a Spiders kind of feeling, but it’s relentlessly dark; Sonny Feeling is a 180-degree turn, and a great late-set song. These will change some, too — part of the reason Wilco satisfies by hippie-music urges is that they allow their songs to evolve as they play them live. By this time next summer, we’ll have a much better idea of what these tunes really sound like.

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It’s a little difficult to compare this show with the one we saw in Athens in the spring. That set was familiar; none of the songs from the new record had worked their way into the rotation yet. And we were so close to the stage in Athens that it almost made the experience more personal; it also helps that I’m so familiar with Mem Aud, a fact that really made that show feel like home. Last weekend’s show seemed bigger — louder, bigger venue. It also seemed like more work. Artpark’s Mainstage is a good idea, but it’s not executed well. The main part of the venue is a 2,000-seat theater; it’s back wall opens to a lawn that seats another 2,000 people. But the lawn seems to have been an afterthought in the design; the slope is impossibly steep and with the exception of one tiny beer stand at the top of the hill, all the facilities are accessible only by walking down three levels to an area below the stage. Judging from stuff that’s been posted on the Via Chicago boards, the lawn had just one advantage: the sound was much better than it was inside. That works for me; the rest of the theater was kind of a pain in the ass.

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Besides the Cali Stars/Hoodoo combination I mentioned already, the highlight for me was the first encore. I could listen to Misunderstood over and over and over; it’s a perfect song for Wilco, a beautiful country/folk melody over lyrics that speak to unease, despair and, at the end, anger at an unnamed opponent. After Tweedy is done yelling, the song pulls back into the plaintive acoustic music it began with … and then it dissolves, into screaming feedback, until Glenn Kotche pulls it back together as he starts the pulse of Spiders. The ride isn’t over; even when the band sticks closely to its design, Spiders dances on the edge, all angles and dissonance, before re-forming on Tweedy’s guitar cues. Uncomfortable. Beautiful. Exhilarating.

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I’ve said this several times this year, and I saw nothing on Sunday that would make me change my mind: Wilco is the best band out there today. I can’t wait ’til next time.

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