Thursday, May 22, 2008

Concert Review: Wilco At The Pageant, St. Louis, MO, May 17, 2008

Think of St. Louis and you think of Wilco. Well, actually, think of St. Louis and you think of the Cardinals, the ungodly humid summer weather, people who add the letter R to certain words (it’s Warshington, D.C. here in the Lou), and the Arch.

Further down on the list, you then think of Wilco. St. Louis is undoubtedly a Wilco town; like toasted ravioli, thin crust pizza, and Sammy Hagar (god knows why), St. Louisians love Wilco the way Diane Fosse loved gorillas. Only St. Louisians are more protective than she ever was.

Playing their third show in as many nights at the Pageant (and the final U.S. show of their Sky Blue Sky tour), Wilco delivered a fun and raucous two-hour plus show that was a fitting close to the tour. For those fans who like their Wilco loud and their concerts long, it was definitely a great way to spend a Saturday night in St. Louis.

Yet what tends to be as interesting as the actual band performing on stage though is the sometimes odd (and always entertaining) behavior of some St. Louis music fans. And since no one’s really interested in reading another concert review about how much Wilco rocked man, here are some various observations, ramblings, and fairly shallow and obvious wisecracks:

• Retribution Gospel Choir opened and were farking loud as hell. They made all the windows in the neighborhood shake and, if rumors are to be believed, caused a pregnant woman’s water to break during the third song. Despite some cheesy drumstick finger twirls and several occasions of the power guitar face of pain, they were a solid opening act.
• Wilco seems to attract a legion of massively bearded older men who spend the concert rolling their own cigarettes and stroking said beards (to make sure the beards haven’t left their faces?). The balcony section looked like an army of Confederate generals.
• Despite Wilco’s massively dedicated following, there was a constant audible background of people talking throughout the concert. And I’m not talking about between-song comments (“that sounded good”/”I think he’s on something”/“check out that chick”). Entire conversations could be heard throughout the night, when the music wasn’t loud enough to drown it out. Let’s just say that I know for a fact that some poor sap named Daniel is likely headed for a messy breakup because he’s an “insensitive bastard who doesn’t understand the vagaries of a woman’s mind.” Said, ironically enough, during “She’s a Jar.”
• Most unexplainable slurred conversation of the night. Left Center balcony bathroom, about one hour into Wilco’s performance:
o Person A: “They still haven’t played anything from Pablo Honey.”
o Person B: “Pablo Honey? They aren’t gonna play any Uncle Tupelo stuff.”
• By my count, this was Wilco’s 17,000th show. Maybe it was the fact that this was the tour’s closing night, but the consensus among those I talked to afterwards was that this was one of the most unique Wilco shows they’ve seen. From Jeff Tweedy engaging in a humorous exchange of middle fingers with an audience member, to an unexpected final encore song after the house lights had come on and people had begun heading for the turnstiles, to the appearance of a giant St. Louis Cardinals foam finger onstage, it was a concert of unexpected moments.
• The songs were pretty good also. Although some of the songs never strayed too far from other live versions, there were plenty of nice flourishes – especially with the keyboards, guitars, and the band’s overall stage demeanor – to make Wilco standards like “ELT,” “Shot in the Arm,” and “Airline to Heaven” sound original and interesting.

Toward the end of the show Jeff Tweedy said a few words of sincere thanks to those in attendance for being, well, fiercely loyal and borderline psychotic Wilco fans. For once a musician’s thanks didn’t seem like shameless, WWE-style pandering. Even if the idea of a life-changing concert experience is a silly cliché, Wilco’s tour-ending show felt like one of those rare concerts where the audience knew they were seeing a great band on a special night. That the tour ended in the Lou made it seem all the more fitting.

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