One sure signal that summer is done, despite what Mother Nature may show, is the final outdoor concert of the season. As you hold onto lingering memories of sweating it out during sunshine-blasted shows, the reality that inevitably a blanket of snow will cover everything and the outside will hurt your face sets in. At that moment, send your thoughts forward to the coming summer which now only feels like a pinprick of light at the end of a frigid tunnel. Summer will return. And with it hot weather, warm friends and cold drinks. After another summer of great shows at Budweiser Stage and RBC Echo Beach, 2019 closed with a tour-opening show by America’s Greatest Band™, Wilco. Twenty-five-years-young, Wilco just released their eleventh album, Ode To Joy. The album is a further exploration of the band’s newer quirky and quieter side shown since 2015’s Star Wars. While not entirely eschewing their musically angular and chaotic moments the sextet has been previously known for, Jeff Tweedy stays true to his loose poetic lyrics. Tweedy’s autobiography, Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back) details some of his writing style, and overall is one of the best, funniest rock bios I’ve read. Tweedy’s dry hilarity is something he incorporates into his stage banter.
In support of Ode To Joy, Wilco began their first North American tour in almost two years in Toronto on a mild, cool night by Lake Ontario. Opening the night was LA’s, Lord Huron. Their blend of mellow indie folk-rock was the perfect appetizer for a Wilco crowd and more than a few obviously took delight in the night’s lineup. With the sun all the way down, Wilco took the stage to open the show with a pair of new songs, Bright Leaves and Before Us. Jeff Tweedy warned that he’d be keeping the chit chat to a minimum due to time. That being said, he did choose to humorously reprimand the booker of the tour for opening it on Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement and the holiest of the Jewish calendar, saying “Gut yontif (A Yiddish expression meaning good day that’s said on Jewish holidays). For those of you not at services, welcome. And for your friends who are in services, tell them this is the last time we’re going to let the goys make the touring schedule.” Tweedy is a recent convert to Judaism, so for all us Red Sea pedestrians in the audience, it was a light moment to get busted. It’s understandable that as the band plays the new material, the songs will likely develop and evolve, but throughout the show, it was clear that the audience was raring for the older favourites that have become setlist mainstays. The juicy part of the set included singalongs to I Am Trying to Break Your Heart, Handshake Drugs, Hummingbird, Bull Black Nova and Random Name Generator. Warmly met were debuts of We Were Lucky and Love Is Everywhere (Beware). Impossible Germany from 2007’s Sky Blue Sky was well-awaited as the song allows supremely talented lead guitarist, Nels Cline to literally take the spotlight. It’s clear that the band and Tweedy hold Nels in high esteem as they too watched the guitarist blend the most harmonic playing with his singular frenzied style. Original member John Stirratt held not just the bottom end down but supported Jeff Tweedy’s vocals. Coming in on the third part vocally was keyboardist, guitarist, glockenspielist Pat Sansone who took a beautiful electric piano solo in How to Fight Loneliness. Adding to the barely controlled mayhem sections of Via Chicago was drummer Glenn Kotche, who along with Cline adds the avant-garde elements to Wilco. Stalwart keyboardist Mikael Jorgensen sat unassumingly in the back making quiet contributions. Unfortunately, guitar cable issues and yahoo noise from the crowd sullied an otherwise sweet, solemn performance of Reservations. Prior to usual encores of California Stars and The Late Greats, the set ended with fan faves Heavy Metal Drummer and I’m the Man Who Loves You, the former, Tweedy introduced with “Here’s another smash hit. Won’t you please sing along?” And we all did as asked, saying a final, inexorable goodbye to summer singing
I miss the innocence I’ve known
Playing KISS covers, beautiful and stoned
Wilco’s Ode To Joy tour continues through the midwest and southern US until November 24. Get your tickets here.
Header image by Tom Pandi