It’s been a long, windy road to Alaska for Wilco. They’ve been through multiple line-up changes, record label fiascos, prescription drug bouts, and a show canceling case of the chicken pox but it didn’t stop them from making it to Anchorage for Moose’s Tooth’s 12th Anniversary Party where the only plight to overcome was rain.
The Grammy Award Winning sextet from Chicago, Illinois formed in 1994 after the break up of the band Uncle Tupelo, which included Wilco’s original line-up and Son Volt singer Jay Farrar.
In the fourteen years the band has been about they’ve put out six studio albums, a live album, two collaborative albums with Billy Bragg where they recorded unreleased material by Woody Guthrie, and been the focus of the documentary “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart” which chronicles the making of and havoc that surrounded their critically acclaimed fourth album, “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.”
Since the band first formed, singer/songwriter/guitarist Jeff Tweedy and bassist John Stirratt have been the only constant members of the band. The current line-up includes drummer Glenn Kotche, guitarist Nels Cline, and multi-instrumentalists Pat Sansone and Mikael Jorgensen.
The show started off a little peculiarly. But what do you expect from an outdoor concert in the pouring rain? For the first couple songs the crowd seemed as if they weren’t sure how to feel. But a couple of songs into the show people began to accept the weather and embrace the music.
Wilco plucked songs from every corner of their catalog. They played recent songs, old ones, even a song that was “from before Alaska was a state,” as Tweedy put it. They also tantalized the crowd with a few new songs.
If Wilco had a few disbelievers in the audience all ambiguity was put to rest when they belted out “Misunderstood” from their second album “Being There.” The song may as well be a calling card for the band and is as manic as Alaska’s weather patterns. It started with a thunderous drum mash that led into to a hushed lullaby before erupting in a mass of sound that was as powerful as an earthquake, ending with the chilling repetition of Tweedy shouting “Nothing!” over the juggernaut stomps of the band.
In Wilco’s discography they touch on folk, rock, Americana, country twang, experimental, soft and heavy but none of it is as accentuated as it is live. Their live sound was refreshingly crisp, though at times hard to hear the vocals, but they boasted the capabilities of nearly blasting their speakers with gargantuan crescendos before evaporating into a tingling whisper.
It was a tough job for the band to entertain a crowd of bone soaked Alaskans. The band knew what they were up against though and played what they knew needed to be played.
They belted out Wilco classics like “Jesus, Etc.”, “Heavy Metal Drummer”, “Hummingbird”, “Shot In The Arm”, and Tweedy even stepped aside for bassist Stirratt to take the mic for one of his songs. Tweedy also kept things cool, bantering between songs and even commemorating a certain audience member for being the first person at a Wilco show to be smoking a pipe. “Are you a mariner?” Tweedy had asked.
At one point Tweedy did promise that the band would keep playing until the rain stopped. Even though it wasn’t a granted wish the band did play two encores, which included some of the band’s great gems, saving the best for last. Even when they were leaving the stage at the end of their last set, Tweedy offered up one last tune, to which the audience hastily accepted.
Despite a dubious start to the show it ended up being a spectacular event. In the middle of “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart” Tweedy cut out, opting the crowd to sing “Hello” and wasn’t met with much assistance, but later had the crowd clapping in unison, and solo, taking the beat in the middle of the epic “Spiders (Kidsmoke)” before the band blasted back into the song’s colossal chorus. And just like the song, the show started off timid and unsure but ended if full on grandiosity.