Review and Photos by Tony Bonyata"I've got reservations about so many things, but not about you," Jeff Tweedy sang to a packed house in Milwaukee last Saturday night. And while it appeared that the enigmatic leader of the Chicago-based band Wilco was directing this sentiment to his audience, it seemed, from their inspired performance that evening, however, that he very well might have been expressing these feelings towards his most recent work.
With a world of critics and fans alike hailing Wilco's latest album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot as their greatest work thus far, it should come as no surprise that Tweedy feels an immense amount of pride in the album. So much pride, in fact, that of the eleven numbers from the album, Tweedy, along with Wilco cofounder and bassist John Stirratt, multi-instrumentalist Leroy Bach and drummer Glenn Kotche, embraced no less than ten of these for their lengthy and emotional set. For an album that was rejected by their previous record label for having "no commercial potential," onstage Tweedy and company drove home the point that the majority of this work is, in fact, something very special.
Tweedy, clad in jean jacket and looking more refreshed than he has in ages, deadpanned his way through the first half of "I Am Trying To Break Your Heart," before Bach's oddly taunting keys made way for him to vocally cut loose amidst the cacophony of avant-garde rumblings from his bandmates.
Not forgetting what got them here in the first place, the band also ran through rousing versions of songs from their two pillar collections, Being There from 1996 and 1999's more pop-absorbed Summerteeth. Many of these peppier numbers such as "Shot In The Arm" and "I'm Always In Love," as well as the Woody Guthrie-penned "California Stars," from their Mermaid Avenue album with Billy Bragg, meshed perfectly with newer numbers such as the poppy "Heavy Metal Drummer," "War On War" and "I'm The Man Who Loves You," which featured a deliciously brief and quirky lead guitar solo, complete with oil stains and shop rags, from Tweedy.
Raising the stakes, Tweedy came unglued at the end of "Misunderstanding," as he feverishly spat out "NOTHING...NOTHING....NOTHING AT ALL," turning this simple song into one that swelled with power and emotion. During the song "Not For The Season," Wilco was joined onstage by members of the opening act Preston School of Industry, who with percussions in hand, turned this number into a euphoric tribal gathering - one that demanded, without words, that the audience participate in.
Not all of the songs performed that evening were as upbeat, however. Introspective and reflective numbers from Y.H.F., such as the hauntingly beautiful "Reservations" and "Ashes of American Flags," not to mention the country-tinged "Far, Far Away," from Being There, with its lilting George Harrison-inspired melody, helped keep the ebb-and-flow of the evening at a perfect balance.
While on record, I may still have my own doubts that Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is Wilco's 'finest hour,' as many have claimed, these same numbers performed live with such an unabashed love and passion, are definitely something I don't have any reservations about.
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