So, is there a more Wilco-esque reason for a hiatus than this?
Miiri Kotche was part of a panel that judged an academic research prize – in Helsinki. Miiri is a clinical professor of bioengineering at the University of Illinois at Chicago and has studied medical device design at the Finnish VTT Technical Research Centre.
Glenn Kotche is married to Miiri, is Wilco’s drummer and moved to Finland for the duration.
So the band go on hold for the pursuit of scientific endeavour. How cool is that?
This gig was refreshing. A week after the wholly unsatisfactory Stereolab experience, it’s back to the civilised world of European gigging. No-one gasses away during the gig or invades your personal space but everyone is enthusiastic. No London “come on impress us and we’ll maybe give you a brief round of applause at the end of the gig attitude”. The beer glasses are recycled via a €1 deposit (and are pretty covetable if you don’t fancy taking them back). Bouncers don’t usher you toward the exit the moment the band finish – you’re encouraged to move into the adjacent bar to watch Toy Commander who has just started his set or have a few drink al fresco in the courtyard. The sound is pristine and well balanced. The stage is sufficiently elevated that everyone has a decent view.
One of my “things” (I must confess that I have a few things) is seeing Wilco abroad. I’ve seen them in Berlin in 2011 and Stockholm on the Schmilco tour. They announced continental Europe dates a few months in advance of a tranche of UK dates. I didn’t want to miss out on their rarer trips across the Atlantic so took advantage of Lille being less than a couple of hours away on the Eurostar. Leave work early afternoon, have steak carbonnade in a Flanders street cafe, go to the gig, go to bed and catch the train and be at my desk for 9:30. Seems like a plan.
Wilco kept their hand in during the period on hiatus. We’ve got a trio of Tweedy solo records, a tour plus his autobiography. Nels has kept his hand in promoting the Lovers project plus the Four album on Blue Note. I’m sure the others haven’t exactly been kicking back in Mar El Largo with the Don.
The Lille set featured no new material. It was the band playing for kicks, getting back up to speed in advance of the imminent Solid Sound Festival (one day we’ll be there Rodney, one day).
We got the usual mix of the sweet and the savoury, the angular and the smooth. If this was a precursor to the next LP, we didn’t get any obvious clues as to a new direction. The edgy stuff seemed to get turned up a notch. Perhaps Laminated Cat’s sharp interplay or Bull Black Nova’s relentless onslaught will see them moving towards the Sonic Youth cathedral of spatial discord? Or maybe the beauty of How You Flight Loneliness with a mellow Fender Rhodes solo from Pat Sansone will draw upon the softer more acoustic side evident on Schmilco. Or is the ramping up of Red-Eyed And Blue from a country ballad into some sort of warped stadium rock where we are heading?
These are all shades of colours, not some jazz odyssey or minimalist techno reinvention. The staging was stripped back, the foliage from the last tour mouldering somewhere in a Chicago compost heap. Jeff was in good spirits, highlighted by “what was I thinking when I said bonjour” during an early I Am Trying To Break Your Heart. He acknowledged that the band hadn’t been to Lille before and there was a definite sense of making up for lost time, egged on by a very receptive crowd.
Personal highlights were as follows:
- A tender rendition of the understated You And I which given my recent travails brought a tear to my eye
- Nels’ emphasis on the Marquee Moon guitar solo in Handshake Drugs
- John Stirratt’s bass line on Impossible Germany. We all know how this song is about giving the guitars space to stretch out but this wouldn’t be feasible without the bedrock of the rhythm section
- The transition from Red Eyed and Blue into I Got You – as the chords of the former faded away, you were willing for the Being There rocker to follow. And as night follows day, it did
- Random Name Generator’s home as a stalwart encore number. It’s glamtastically established in the Wilco canon, comfortable next to Misunderstood and Heavy Metal Drummer
A recent Rolling Stone interview suggested that the band would be trying out some new songs at Solid Sound, so hopefully, when I catch up with them in September in London, there’ll be some hot tunes to get our teeth into.
Until then pop-pickers.
Footnote: I missed much of the support but caught the end of Ken Stringfellow’s set which included a wonderful version of Thirteen by the ex-Posies and Big Star man. It was as sweet as one could wish for. Lovely stuff.