Wilco in Iveagh Gardens, Dublin, on Sunday 10th July 2016
The weather seems unsure of itself, the rain an ever-present threat in the cossetted, open-air enclosure of the Iveagh Gardens, but the intermittent spatter from the skies doesn’t really register when Wilco are doing their thing. Anyway, as Jeff Tweedy admits, acknowledging the drizzle, “It feels bad bumming people out when the sun is shining” With Tweedy at the helm, Wilco have been bumming people out for twenty years now, with last year’s ‘Star Wars’ marking album number nine for the Chicago sextet.
If anything is liable to loosen the droplets from the clouds, it’s the sudden blast of EKG that blares from the PA as Wilco emerge and the four guitarists form a united front along the stage, kicking off with a triptych from the new album including a particularly muscular Random Name Generator. The smiles onstage say it all – two songs in and it’s already clear that this is going to be one to remember.
Tweedy in particular seems in jovial form, taking off his hat to point it at the crowd and emphasise each word of “I am trying to break your heart“, but the entire band seem to be up for the occasion – Glenn Kotche twirling his drumstick in tandem with the lyric during Heavy Metal Drummer; Nels Cline going through guitars like Willie Nelson goes through wives; Pat Sansone hopping between guitar and keys, xylophone and banjo, throwing shapes when the mood takes him. Bassist John Stirratt even steals the vocal performance of the night on the stripped-down It’s Just That Simple.
Between them, Tweedy, Cline and Sansone can conjure a formidable squall with their instruments – Handshake Drugs grinds down into collective feedback, while on Spiders (Kidsmoke), it’s Tweedy and not Cline who doles out the skitterish, abrasive guitar work. The singer incites a mass clap-along, until the only sound is Kotche’s kick drum and the handclaps of virtually every attendee ringing out in the park. It’s a mass love-in tonight, right down to the earplugs that are proffered from the band to the woman at the barriers who spends much of the early set with her hands clasped over her ears.
From the carnal eruptions from Kotche throughout Via Chicago to the twin guitar slinging of Tweedy and Sansone, or Tweedy’s mock-ramming of the head of his Rickenbacker into his amp à la Townshend, the more mid-tempo moments are spiced with instrumental flourishes and virtuoso chops, whether its Kline scouring up and down the frets or Mikael Jorgensen’s melodica embellishments. And then, when the power and volume has hit its crescendo, they manage to scale things back to the feel of a barroom session as the band convene in the middle of the stage for the encore’s pared-back acoustic segment.
Misunderstood’s mid-song cacophony echoes Via Chicago’s earlier routing, California Stars is only lovely, and the six players seem to relish this part of the set; gathered together in an intimate huddle with a full-throated crowd behind them all the way. The full band set-up gets one final outing for I’m A Wheel, a straight-up rock’n’roller that elicits windmills from Sansone and an all-in-it effort for the final hurrah. Tweedy takes his hat off one last time and tosses it to a stage hand – a definitive full stop to a full-throttle yet still beautifully bummed-out show.