Photographs by Dawn Hamilton
I’m sure the audience left Wilco’s incredible Massey Hall set with very few questions. Screw that, I’ve got one. Just how many guitars does this band have? After every song- hell, sometimes in the middle of one- stage hands would rush out with an electric, electro-acoustic or steel guitar for a quick change-over. A constant procession of guitartillery. I’d question why they needed that many if they didn’t prove their skill so thoroughly. An expertly concerted effort to put together an undeniably amazing concert.
Easy as it would’ve been to coast on their legacy, musicianship stood at the forefront of their performance. Opener “Normal American Kids” began softly with a solo performance from lead singer Jeff Tweedy, eyes cast in shadow beneath the brim of his hat. The band gradually took the stage one by one, adding more depth to the track. If the first few songs sought to lull the audience into a gentle reverie, it wasn’t for long. “Muzzle of Bees” awoke a fury in lead guitarist Nels Cline, unleashing a blistering solo that brought the crowd to its feet cheering. If anything, it was a mere precursor to a whole new level.
“Art of Almost”, lead single from 2011’s The Whole Love, was an experience. Bright lights flooding the stage in time with thunderous drum beats, an array of discordant colours swirling as the track built. A stage hand hurriedly scurried onstage with a guitar in hand for Cline. Then things got wild: Four guitars shredding simultaneously, solos coming from every direction. Drummer Glenn Kotch frenzied, arms all-a-blur. The crowd howling, baying for more. After seven minutes of magic, the band finally relented, to almost deafening ovation. A moment fit for a conclusion, all of six songs in.
The band would go on to deliver a performance of over two hours, with a setlist stretching as far back as their 1995 debut album A.M. As a casual fan, I found myself utterly enthralled. I can only imagine the bliss of a hardcore devotee.
As always, Massey Hall was an outstanding venue, with unbeatable sound and lighting. For a band with such dynamic range, they couldn’t have chosen better. The stage was beautifully set. Framed by a copse of pigmentally painted trees, they’d be lit in summery tones one minute, before fading to autumnal browns. The effect was captivating, words doing the sight little justice.
When a band is still touring in some capacity twenty years after their conception, it’s usually a matter of love or money. Wilco proved beyond a doubt that there’s a passion still driving the band on the road. Even if it’s just to play with a ludicrous number of guitars.