Des Moines, IA is a city that would surprise anyone driving on I-80 not expecting a major city. In an instant city limits appear. No suburbs, few billboards, and no warnings precede this island of urbanization. Similar to this was the show that Wilco put on there at the Val Air Ballroom on March 9th. The band dove straight into heavy material with “Ashes of American Flags.” They didn’t give the audience a light, easy rocker opener. They started with the main course.
Tweedy and the boys didn’t let up either, saying, “Normally we don’t do this but we are going to let you in on something tonight. We have a bunch of introspective songs at the beginning here, because that is what you requested.” That is one of the many great things about a Wilco show, the unpredictable setlist. Thanks to their request machine at WilcoWorld.net, the band can play pretty much the perfect set for the crowd. One request, which was a standout performance, was the Yankee Hotel Foxtrot-era b-side, “Cars Can’t Escape.”
The band leaned on Summerteeth and beyond for their entire first set, not including a single song from Being There or A.M. I was strangely OK with that since I was experiencing what I could imagine would be the concert God would have if he had a party. Nels Cline, put all of those Steve Vai and Joe Satriani types to shame with his mastery of both technique and style in “Impossible Germany.” Glenn Kotche imploded skulls with his eruption of percussion in “Via Chicago.” And John Stirratt threw down the groove in a fan favorite, “Handshake Drugs.” The band left after playing their humongous hour and a half first set. Knowing Wilco, I knew at least one encore was coming. The band returned to the thunderous applause and here, in this set, is where they pinnacled. Playing five songs, almost in a row off Being There, Tweedy plastered a smile on my face. The first Being There song was “Kingpin.” This is my favorite track off my favorite album, and therefore my favorite song. Saturated with audience participation, and Jeff Tweedy’s scratchy yell, the song melted me.
Some nice freshly dusted gems were “A Magazine Called Sunset,” “Remember the Mountain Bed,” “Summer Teeth,” and “Red-Eyed and Blue.”
Just as the show started at full power, it ended with a second, one song, meaty encore: “I’m a Wheel.” And before I could count to nine, I was back in the car quickly reflecting on the night. I saw Des Moines sublimate into countryside, and I knew that nothing was going to beat being there at that show.
Wilco deserves no less than a Handle-bar (even though Jeff has neckbeard nightmare).
If you want to live this, you are in luck, because Wilco just announced a new tour. Here are the dates:
Rochester, MN 4/30
Fargo, ND 5/1
Winnipeg, MN 5/2
Bozeman, MT 5/4
Missoula, MT 5/5
Grand Junction, CO 5/7
Colorado Springs, CO 5/8
Albuquerque, NM 5/9
Austin, TX 5/11
Austin, TX 5/12
St. Louis, MO 5/15
St. Louis, MO 5/16
Charleston, SC 8/7
If we are lucky we might get a preview of what the band is, as I read in Rolling Stone, supposed to start recording at the end of this year.