Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Wilco & Yo La Tengo, Keyspan Park, Coney Island, Brooklyn, July 13, 2009

At some point on Monday night, Jeff Tweedy mentioned that he was really excited to have Yo La Tengo in the house and that we all got our money’s worth by just hearing their opening set. Similarly, when the Yo La’s set ended, me and my friends all agreed that we felt bad that Wilco would have to follow them. So what did Wilco do? If Pete Townsend is gonna smash his guitar, Hendrix has to light it on fire, right? Wilco went nuclear and brought themselves into the awesome, yet strange world of arena rock. It was a lot to wrap your head around, but for all its…how you say…overindulgences, you’d have to be a pretty miserable person to not have enjoyed the rebirth of Wilco Mach III.

That said, the real story for me was the head-exploding Yo La Tengo set – an excellent mix of songs both new and old, some absolute classics (”Julie Christie, the rumors are true!”), and most of all, Ira Kaplan’s insane guitar freak outs that put to shame anything I have seen done by any of the other like-minded noise-rock godfathers of my youth, including Sonic Youth. Yo La managed to bring their best, sounding melodic, tuneful, adventurous and interesting all at the same time. This was most evident on the extended 20 minute guitar epic, (aptly named “The Story of Yo La Tengo”) that closed their set just exploded the shit out of the place and reminded everyone that, yes, Wilco’s own noisy freak-out might actually pale in comparison.

A couple of years ago when we saw The Arcade Fire play before a similarly huge outdoor crowd exceeding 10,000 people, we were completely blindsided by their opening act, LCD Soundsystem. The Yo La set was not as surprising as LCD’s, but it was equally awe-inspiring. Both bands made you take notice, and every time you thought you wanted to talk to your friend or run to the john, you were either (1) blindsided by a confused Britt Daniel on his perpetual quest for brew (2) assaulted with awesomeness and / or (3) mets-morized by Kaplan’s virtuosity (yes, that was a Mr. Met t-shirt he was wearing). It was an impressive performance and seeing this in front of a huge festival crowd on a perfect summer night made it all come together perfectly.

That same backdrop was a large part of the enjoyment of Wilco’s whopping two and a half hour set as well. Everyone at Coney Island, including Jeff Tweedy (“you guys look great tonight! No, really, this is a very attractive crowd”) seemed happy to be outside, by the beach, hot dogs and caviar in their stomach, Cyclone pics in their pocket, Russian Baltika brews in their cabbage. A wise man once said, “You can’t do a free form jazz improvisation in front of a festival crowd!” and though the rebirth of Wilco, Mach III was very much evident on Monday, they took Derek Smalls’ advice and went in the opposite direction: a HUGE sound for a huge crowd.

It was impressive, the show went on and on, Feist came out and sang “You and I” and apparently Mr. Grizzly Bear was there as well, offering nothing, which is better than offering what he normally offers. Yo La came out and joined Wilco for “Spiders (Kidsmoke)”, and Wilco somehow managed to not really pay homage to Mermaid Ave, which was a bit odd, except that this band has nothing to do with the band that recorded those records. Wilco is either going for the big time or simply just evolving into that band that loves showing their chops. Either way, they are clearly more than capable of doing both. And while this new version of the band makes me feel like something else has died, leave it to a perfect summer night to make me forget about any of that stuff and just enjoy it for what it was – a great day at the beach.

Yo La Tengo Setlist

Mr. Tough
We’re An American Band
Little Eyes
Autumn Sweater
Periodically Double Or Triple (new one)
From A Motel 6
Nothing To Hide (new one)
Tom Courtenay
The Story of Yo La Tengo

Wilco Setlist

Wilco (the song)
I Am Trying to Break Your Heart
Shot in the Arm
At Least That’s What You Said
Bull Black Nova
You Are My Face
One Wing
Handshake Drugs
Deeper Down
Impossible Germany
Jesus Etc.
Sonny Feeling
I’m Always in Love
Can’t Stand It
Hate it Here
I’m the Man Who Loves You

1st Encore:
Heavy Metal Drummer
You And I@
California Stars*
You Never Know*
Spiders (Kidsmoke)#

2nd Encore:
The Late Greats
Hoodoo Voodoo*

@-Feist on vocals
*-Feist and Ed Droste of Grizzly Bear on backup vocals and percussion
#- Yo La Tengo played

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