Fellow RFT writer Christian Schaeffer made a salient observation about Wilco during its Farm Aid set: Seeing the band in a festival setting is an entirely different experience than seeing it in a club. Compared to the band's three-night Pageant stand last year, this was certainly the case. Those shows had no shortage of raucous moments, but yesterday's set was loose and raw - more like the tightest jam session you'll ever see than a well-orchestrated gig.
Now, this isn't to say that the six-song set was a mess. It was quite the opposite, in fact, starting with a stunning version of "Bull Black Nova," from this year's Wilco (The Album). Mixing Television's ringing chord repetition with Tweedy's gruff-soul man vocals - and a crashing, unison chorus which underscored the band's tightness -- the song kept building and building in intensity and volume as it progressed, culminating in a hurricane of noise: Tweedy, bassist John Stirratt and guitarists Nels Cline and Pat Sansone pounding out shrieking riffs and masterminding effects. The look on Tweedy's face during this section was bulldog-ferocious and intense - making him seem like the kind of man you'd be scared to meet if you saw him in a dark alley.
Guitar heroics were a common thread throughout, whether they involved Cline's nuanced plucking on "Impossible Germany" or Sansone's lazy windmills, Who-style, throughout the set. More impressive, that pair even had an entertaining guitar duel on final song "Hoodoo Voodoo." As Tweedy stood back and grinned at his bandmates, Cline did some guitar mumbo-jumbo on the left side of the stage and spun around like a wobbly marionette. Muttonchop-sporting Sansone, meanwhile, hammed it up a bit more with some classic guitar-solo faces and moves, such as aiming his axe like a gun. (Who won? Call it a draw.)
It was also Casual Friday in the Wilco camp sartorially, with most sporting plaid shirts or dress shirts and scruffy facial hair/haircuts. (Only pianist/multi-instrumentalist/cowbell handler Mikael Jorgensen held it down in a natty suit.) This nonchalance extended to Tweedy's banter, which included a cheeky nod to the area's lack of pride: "I'm from Belleville," he said before "Heavy Metal Drummer." Cue cheering, as he continued: "Usually, we say" - and here he lowered his voice and sounded meeker - "Hey."
He then mentioned the Landing (of course) before "Drummer," a song that was far more power-pop than usual, thanks to carnival-whirligig keyboards and soaring falsetto lines and harmonies. And right before "Casino Queen" -- in response to the previous performer, Gretchen Wilson, asking who in the crowd was a redneck -- Tweedy pointedly asked the crowd: "With all due respect, who here is not a redneck?" Folks cheered again, as he made it a point to say: "Not everybody who grows up here is a redneck."
Wilco setlist: "Bull Black Nova" "Impossible Germany" "Hate It Here" "Heavy Metal Drummer" "Casino Queen" "Hoodoo Voodoo"