Friday, September 23, 2011

Wilco and Nick Lowe Played Central Park - Pictures, Review, Setlist

Last night we stopped in at Rumsey Playfield to catch the first of Wilco's two nights in New York.  The band is helping to close out the final days of the year at the Central Park venue, and despite predicted rain, the evening managed to go off without any serious interference from the weather.  Alongside the band was legendary musician and producer Nick Lowe.  The band recently covered Lowe's "I Love My Label" as a B-Side to "I Might", and apparently dug doing so enough that they decided to bring him along for their inaugural tour under dBpm Records.

Nick Lowe was touring without a band, and delivered a set in true singer-songwriter style with his voice and a lone acoustic guitar.  Much akin to his longtime friend and collaborator Elvis Costello, Lowe can still command a crowd even with such simple implements.  Lowe's voice is unquestionably in top form, and hearing him live was a real treat; Roy Orbison came to mind as we listened to the delivery.

If anything, the years have improved Lowe's voice, by giving it an even warmer, more even timbre - sweet without being saccharine.  His set started off with a fair dose of his newer material, which definitely held its own.  However, Lowe managed to truly win over the crowd when he delivered his own "Cruel To Be Kind" and "What's So Funny (About Peace, Love, and Understanding)?", as well as a cover of Elvis Costello's "Alison", at the end of the set.

Wilco took to the stage soon thereafter, and launched in to a 2+ hour set that covered the breadth of their entire catalog.  Before we go any further, we'll start by saying this:  Wilco is one of those bands who, no matter what, in any circumstance, always seem to win us over live.  Even if we're dragging a bit on the way to the show, the opposite is always true on the other side.  Inevitably, we spend the next few weeks revisiting their entire catalog and getting back into the band.

This is why it was such a surprise, that last night, this simply didn't happen.  Did the band put on a bad performance?  Not particularly, but it wasn't great either.  There was something in the band's approach and attitude that simply felt staid; like they were just going through the motions.  It didn't help things that the crowd was a bizarre mix of insanely devoted fans, and arbitrary New Yorkers who didn't even seem aware that they were at a concert.  There were no quiet moments, but there were no truly raucous moments either.  Everything chugged along a steady, neutral pace.

The new material from the band's latest, The Whole Love, was certainly tolerable, but it didn't have any real grip on the crowd.  Moreover, the arrangements of the band's old material were the same ones that we've been hearing for the past few years, with little deviation or inspiration.  The lone standout was a somewhat updated version of "I Am Trying To Break Your Heart", that added some fuzzy tones and textures, no doubt culled from the recent album sessions.

It's difficult to issue such a negative assessment of a Wilco show, because the fact remains that they are a fantastic band, and they do truly deliver, even when they're a little bit off.  Nonetheless, after watching their shows for the past ten years, we also feel pretty confident saying that they've reached something of a creative impasse, and perhaps need to find a way to get "unstuck".  It brings to mind the scene from the film I Am Trying To Break Your Heart where Jeff Tweedy opts not to play it safe as the band constructs their live setlist.  Mr. Tweedy, it may be time to take some of your own advice.

Wilco Setlist 09-22-2011
Art Of Almost
I Might
Ashes Of American Flags
I Am Trying To Break Your Heart
One Wing
Bull Black Nova
At Least That's What You Said
One Sunday Morning
Shouldn't Be Ashamed
Born Alone
She's A Jar
Handshake Drugs
Standing O
Rising Red Lung
Impossible Germany
Dawned On Me
A Shot In The Arm
Via Chicago
Whole Love
War On War
Jesus, Etc.
I'm The Man Who Loves You
Outtasite Out Of Mind

Wilco and Nick Lowe play Central Park again this evening.


Anonymous said...

I could not disagree more strongly with this review.
If show seemed subdued in any manner, me thinks it was b/c of central park/5th ave. sound ordinances, early start time, curfew, etc...
Wilco is @ the top of their game, 1-2 opening punch of new songs "Art of almost" & "I might" worked well as hook setters. One of the best Live Acts. Ever. Still.

Anonymous said...

not sure what show the reviewer was attending. have never read a review that missed the mark more

Anonymous said...

This show was outstanding. Anyone who didn't have a great time has something wrong with THEM.

Kitty said...

Let me preface my response to this article by saying I am a HUGE Wilco fan. That being said: I can see some the reviewers perspective here. ESPECIALLY having attended both Summerstage shows. Was I disappointed with the show on 9/22- NOT AT ALL!!! But I can agree with some of the observations that were made in the review. Of the 2 nights played I am of the opinion the 2nd night was the stronger night for the band. I disagree with the implication that the band was perhaps going through the motions. From my stand point of watching the show ( up front ) the band was up there having a great time playing.