The legendary rock band Wilco played Philly’s hottest new venue, Iveagh Gardens, July 10. Just kidding you guys– I’m in Dublin, the capital city of the Emerald Isle, Ireland. I’m studying abroad and doing my darnedest to expand the Triangle’s coverage across the pond. Are we an international publication now? In my mind, sure. Why not!
As our first and finest international correspondent it is my pleasure to give you readers back at Drexel a review of the show. Wilco is a band that I fell in love with back in high school and have been trying to see live ever since. Only took five years for the stars to finally align and it was well worth the wait.
Dublin is a great city for walking around, and walking around is just what I did when I first got into town. The Iveagh Gardens are a real hidden gem. So hidden in fact, that I walked by them three times before I eventually figured out where the entrance was. I totally see how the Gardens, which have been around since 1865, earned their nickname as Dublin’s “Secret Garden.” It seemed like a couple thousand people could fit on the lawn space carved out from the surrounding fauna, creating an intimate concert experience that you wouldn’t usually get for a band of Wilco’s caliber.
Lucinda Williams and her three piece backing band opened up for Wilco. Williams delivered some great country blues rock songs that had a lot of moms in the front rows singing along in earnest. The lead guitarist laid down some serious licks as Williams sang in a way somewhat reminiscent of Stevie Nicks. During the song “Foolishness,” Williams rattled off all the things that she doesn’t need in her life, including name checking Donald Trump, causing a roar of agreement from the crowd. Williams and company closed with a great cover of Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World” that really got people going. Hard to go wrong with a classic rock cover when your audience is mainly middle-aged folks!
At around 8:30 p.m. Wilco came on stage to a thunderous round of applause from the crowd. It’s a bit different when you’re in a country where the sun doesn’t have any plans on setting until after 10 p.m. It’s downright weird if you ask me. But Jeff Tweedy and his bandmates didn’t seem to mind as they ran through three quick cuts from their latest album “Star Wars.” A little over a year ago, Wilco released “Star Wars” as a surprise album that you could download for free. Haven’t checked in a bit, but I imagine that you have to pay for it nowadays. Either way, the songs from it, “Cold Slope” and “King of You” in particular, sound fantastic live.
It’s incredible how tight Wilco play together. Lead guitarist Nels Cline kept to himself on the far side of the stage, wrangling whatever sounds and feedback he could from his guitar on almost every song. His solo on “Impossible Germany” left me with my jaw on the ground as I tried and failed to match Cline on my air guitar. Drummer Glenn Kotche is a real dynamo, propelling every song with such a pure energy. He really shined on “Via Chicago.” You’d think it’d be hard to showcase a drummer on such a somber track but during the live version of the song, the band starts playing this cacophonous segment and Kotche just starts going bananas. He was a whirlwind playing behind his kit; at one point his drum stick broke and a shard of it almost hit Kline. Kotche has to be one of the best drummers in the game today. It’s Tweedy who holds everything together with his trademark vocals and strong stage presence. He sounded just as good as ever and looked sharp with his glasses and cowboy hat. Hard to imagine there is a more rad dad in rock ‘n’ roll today.
As a fine mist of rain came down through the trees, Tweedy remarked that the weather was “very appropriate” for a Wilco show. The songs’ often melancholic lyrics are tailor made for crowds to sing along to themselves in the rain, letting whatever feelings and emotions they’ve imparted on the songs and lyrics throughout the years come through in earnest, among fellow fans and friends. For me personally, I let it all hang out on “I am Trying to Break Your Heart,” a song from the legendary album “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” and “Dawned on Me” from my favorite Wilco album “The Whole Love.”
The acoustic encore was a real treat. Even though the rain picked up, the band was still able to play some amazing versions of songs including “Misunderstood,” “War on War,” and “California Stars.” “A Shot in the Arm” was an awesome song to close the acoustic encore with. The whole crowd sang along with Tweedy and bassist John Stirratt during the hook, “Maybe all I need is a shot in the arm/ something in my veins, bloodier than blood.”
Then, before anyone could start the “One more tune!” chant, Wilco came back out to play one last song, the frenetic “I’m a Wheel.” It was over almost as soon as it started but it was a great way to end the night. Wilco is one of the best live acts touring these days and to see them in as intimate a venue as the Iveagh Gardens was a real treat. If you’re ever studying abroad keep an eye out for local shows. It could end up being a one of a kind experience.