Janet Weiss

Wilco, Live at Edgefield

Edgefield is easily one of the best venues in Oregon, and it is too bad that we were unable to see more shows there this summer.  However, if it ends up that we only make it out to Troutdale one time this year, Wilco certainly did their best to make it worthwhile.  The band entertained the sold-out crowd with a career-spanning, thirty song set that captured every aspect of the group’s sound.

If you look closely, the cat from the Star Wars cover is hanging out by Glen.

If you look closely, the cat from the Star Wars cover is hanging out by Glenn.

Wilco kicked off the show with a mini-set of their entire new album, Star Wars, entering the stage to the noisy opener “EKG” before playing straight through the entire record.  The crowd ate it up, with a fair portion having already memorized many of the lyrics from last month’s surprise release.  The new material translated well live, with the band staying faithful to the record, besides Nels Cline adding some embellishments and Glenn Kotche indulging in an extended drum solo between songs.

To Jeff's delight, it finally got dark enough.

To Jeff’s delight, it finally got dark enough.

Once “Magnetized” closed out the “opening set”, Jeff Tweedy greeted the crowd and the band launched into a roaring version of “Handshake Drugs”.  For the most part, the band kept the energy up during the main set, flying through uptempo numbers like “Dawned on Me”, “Heavy Metal Drummer”, and “I’m the Man That Loves You”.  Wilco did not just stick with the fun, bouncy songs though, as they played a varied set that covered all the assorted genres the band has flitted with over the years.  The group delighted the crowd with their moody, noisy freakouts in “Via Chicago” and “Art of Almost” as well as the introspective favorite “Jesus, Etc.”, but the audience truly came alive with the epic, extended guitar workouts of “Spiders (Kidsmoke)” and “Impossible Germany”.

For the encore, Wilco went retro

For the encore, Wilco went retro.

For the encore, the band eschewed amps and went old-school with a full acoustic lineup, with even keyboardist Mikael Jorgensen picking up an axe at one point.  The band began with a solemn rendition of “Misunderstood”, featuring an ending that stood in stark contrast with the way the long-time live favorite has been performed–instead of an ever-escalating repetition of the “nothing” part in “I’d like to thank you all for nothing at all”, the band gradually played softer, with members dropping out, finishing with Tweedy whispering the final notes in a powerful moment.  Bassist John Stirratt then got a turn at the mic as the band played “It’s Just That Simple” from their debut A.M., followed by an even earlier selection as they played “We’ve Been Had” by pre-Wilco group Uncle Tupelo.  Special guests (and Portland residents) Peter Buck of R.E.M., Janet Weiss of Sleater-Kinney, and Scott McCaughey joined in for the second of two Mermaid Avenue selections, livening up “California Stars” with an extra dose of familial feeling, before the band closed out with a relaxed take on “A Shot in the Arm”.

Wilco proved once again why they have been consistently one of the great live acts of the past two decades, and we wish we could have seen more of Speedy Ortiz’s opening set.  Unfortunately, Portland’s terrible Sunday traffic only allowed us to see a handful of songs from one of our favorite new bands, but we liked what we heard, even if most of the crowd seemed relatively indifferent.

Review: Sleater-Kinney – No Cities To Love

Though this is difficult to hear, every year we get more evidence that it may be a good idea to break up your band for a decade, even if they are at their creative peak.  Last year, Death From Above 1979 came back and wowed us with the stellar The Physical World; the year before that saw the surprisingly wonderful return of My Bloody Valentine; and then there is Dinosaur Jr., who have released three excellent albums after the reunion of their original lineup after nearly twenty years apart.  Sleater-Kinney has pulled off the same trick with the excellent No Cities To Love, a furious and catchy album that is both an artistic step forward as well as a classic example of the trademark S-K sound.

The frenetic “Price Tag” kicks off the album, pairing an off-kilter looping Sleater-Kinney riff typical of their early years with ferociously political lyrics; not since the heyday of Rage Against The Machine have we heard a song that targets economic inequity and middle-class complacence.  “Fangless” follows and throws a bit of a curveball with its mixture of funk rhythms and new-wave guitars, as well as featuring a prominent bass counterpart that was previously a rarity in light of S-K’s usual twin-guitar attack.  The track is indicative of the kind of musical adventurousness found throughout No Cities To Love as well as what makes the album so much fun.

No Cities To Love features some of the best hooks of Sleater-Kinney’s career, including the peppy title track and the bouncy “Hey Darling”; the descending chorus melody in the latter immediately brings to mind something Ted Leo and the Pharmacists would have concocted circa Hearts of Oak.  “A New Wave” has some fun with the bass riff from Nirvana’s “Love Buzz”  before shifting into a sing-song chorus that makes perfect use of the unique vocal harmonies of Brownstein and Tucker.

Sleater-Kinney has been a band that has long been beloved by critics and pushed by their most passionate fans as all-time greats, but rarely have I ever felt that this type of hype was fully justified.  I’ve certainly have enjoyed their albums over the years (after overcoming an initial reluctance due to their unconventional vocals) and recognize the impact that the group has had musically and culturally over the years (they have been arguably as far-reaching in their influence as Pavement in the past couple of decades), yet never had them break into my regular rotation nor would put them in that upper echelon of groups.  However, even considering Sleater-Kinney’s excellent discography as a whole, No Cities To Love is a cut above, and will certainly invite not only repeated listens but end-of-the-year list consideration.  Not bad for a January album.