By Kait Burrier
Photos by Jason Riedmiller
Ivory rags hang from the stage like chains of clouds. A Belgian style farmhouse is visible through the strands of swaying rags at Brewery Ommegang in Cooperstown, N.Y. Tents dot the rolling hills like mounds of wildflowers in the sold-out camping section of the former hops farm-turned-brewery and music venue.
The blanket-and-chair-toting crowd fills the field, from upstate college students to long-distance diehards to pre-tweens in Wilco tees on their parents’ shoulders.
The ambiance remained mellow throughout the evening as a curtain of rain dropped on Wilco fans during the Saturday, July 28 show. Supporting act Lee Ranaldo Band enjoyed the end of the setting afternoon sun as they played much of their latest album, 2012’s “Between the Times & the Tides.” As the storm clouds rolled in, Ranaldo’s role as a founding member of Sonic Youth grew more apparent in the groaning guitar, particularly when he took a violin bow to the neck of his guitar. Wilco’s own Nels Cline, who collaborated with the band, joined them onstage for a few songs.
Wilco’s 27-song set kicked off with the screak of Cline’s double-necked guitar and Pat Sansone’s maracas in “Dawned On Me” off their latest album, “The Whole Love.” Setlists on the tour have varied with each venue, and Saturday was no exception. The career-spanning set included “Box Full of Letters” from the debut album, “A.M.,” to “Sky Blue Sky’s” “Impossible Germany,” to several songs off “The Whole Love” and 1996’s “Being There,” to a recent tour favorite, “Laminated Cat,” by Wilco side project Loose Fur.
Jeff Tweedy took to the stage sporting a Wilco tee under a blazer with a hat fit for the head of a singer/songwriter/guitarist in a genre-subverting, alt-country-Americana-indie-rock band. Tweedy was uncharacteristically chatty, asking how the crowd was holding up in the rain, and he explained the functionality of his concern via “singer check-ins.” “I don’t know if you want to know how the sausage is made, but rock shows require a certain amount of singer check-ins”
As green WILCO ponchos cropped up in the crowd, Tweedy was prompted to ask, “Is everyone having a good time in spite of the rain? Did the rain somehow make it better?” Keeping true to his biting banter, he continued, commenting, “(The crowd has) very positive energy. I hate that.” A quick pause. “I’m kidding.” And they were back into their Cooperstown repertoire.
A coquettishly slow intro opened into “I’m the Man Who Loves You,” roused the crowd and built into another hit from 2002’s “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot,” the anthemic “Heavy Metal Drummer.” Glenn Kotche leapt onto his drum kit, sticks held high, and struck a pose resembling Pearl Jam’s stick figure insignia before crashing into the song. Mikael Jorgensen’s googly-eyed owl, Peter, hung from his keyboard, nodding to the beat as Jorgensen maintained momentum with the intro to “A Shot in the Arm.” The song, off 1999’s “Summerteeth,” has closed many shows during this tour. Streaks of purple lights stemmed across the darkened set as Tweedy repeated, “Something in my veins bloodier than blood” to the rumbling crowd. Thundering applause met the feedback of guitars as Tweedy indicated the end of the set. Blue light flooded the stage, Cline switched guitars, and they shifted into the encore with the melodic “Poor Places.” The “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” song was followed by the discordant buzz of “Art of Almost” and the careening “Standing O,” both off their latest LP.
Tweedy acknowledged the crowd. “You know what? I’ve gotta say: thank you very much. We’ve had some really great crowds on this tour, but you’re the best. The other crowds are dead to me!” Cline took out a slide guitar and they began their second encore of the night with ”Airline to Heaven,” from their collaborative album with Billy Bragg, with lyrics by Woody Guthrie. It was followed by the soulful concession in “Hate it Here” and the swaying “Can’t Stand It.” The stage lights reflected the lyrics in “Red Eyed and Blue.”
Saturday’s show ended with the up-tempo sing-along “I Got You (At the End of the Century)” from “Being There.” Tweedy was exceptionally pleased with the audience. “You had a good disposition in the rain, you sing along, you’re good looking, you’re a little tipsy: you’re everything a rock band can ask for.”
With fireworks overhead, reverberation from a double encore still buzzing, and an Ommegang ale in hand, Wilco’s Cooperstown show was everything an audience could ask for.