It has been 20 years since Wilco put out their first record, A.M. In those 20 years the band has gained and lost members, started their own record label, had some kids and made a lot more music. Lucky for us they decided to play Red Rocks the other night and took the huge crowd on a 3 hour trip through their discography.
We were able to get to our parking spot before most of the crowd had gathered outside the venue on Tuesday. As the sun went down the lots filled up, everyone was looking up at the clouds hoping the rain would hold off. Folks of all ages where posted up by their cars drinking beer, listening to music and laughing with everyone around them. Once the sun started to lower behind the Rockies, people started filing in. I was able to make it in and find my seat in the middle of opener Steve Gunn’s set; who was fantastic. For a lot of people Steve Gunn might be that name you think you’ve heard of but have trouble placing. He’s a prolific song writer based in Brooklyn and a guitar god thats been making music for about as long as Wilco has. Towards the end of his set it seemed like most people had found there seats and where locked in and ready for what was to come next. Gunn received one of the best rounds of applause I have heard for an opener at Red Rocks… did I already mention he was really good?
After Gunn and his band ran off stage the roadies began unsheathing the awesome amount of gear that Wilco now tour with. This band has been battered and beaten, risen from the ashes, side projects all over the place. You could argue that they’re the most distracted band in America but on stage no one sounds more sincere than frontman Jeff Tweedy. He’s self deprecating, witty, and “formerly-sad-but-now-goofball”. You cant help but love him. As the band took their spots they jumped right into “Handshake Drugs”, immediately followed by a face melting and bouncy rendition of “Camera” off their classic record Yankee Foxtrot Hotel. The beginning of the show was absolutely perfect. Following “Camera” was a shortened version of “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart”, which sounds more earnest now when Tweedy sings it that it did in 2002. To round out this perfect opening to a show was the first track off their most recent album, “Art Of Almost” - a sprawling 7+ minute song with electric freak outs and drummer Glenn Kotche loosing his mind.
The set continued moving right on pace, treating us to songs from all over their catalogue. They played covers, songs from the albums with Billy Bragg and classics like “Heavy Metal Drummer” and “Via Chicago”. As the first set began to wind down you could hear nearly 10,000 people singing along with each song. They quickly came back out to play a nice three song encore and ran off just as quickly as they had come on. The stage was black for a time after this but almost no one in the crowd left, anxiously awaiting what would come next. The band slowly walked back out and made their way to the front of the stage where acoustic instruments and field microphones where waiting for them to perform a second, all-acoustic mini set that was intimate, personal and sweet. This second and final encore featured “War on War” and “California Stars” among others. As the music faded out, Tweedy and the band looked at the crowd with a shy smile and simply said thank you before shuffling off the stage for the final time that night.
- contributor Ben Simorka