Wilco get the key to Duluth at Bayfront Festival Park, 7/1/12
Photo by Erik Hess
Bayfront Festival Park, Duluth
Sunday, July 1, 2012
Seeing Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy onstage at Bayfront Festival Park's pavilion is to see a man in love. During Sunday evening's showcase of both the most straightforward and weird tropes of Americana music, Tweedy couldn't stop himself from making googly eyes and sheepishly grinning at the crowd before him and the mighty hills of Duluth in front of him. The Northern Minnesota city's honorary citizens gained yet another feather in their caps that night, and brought an outdoor hootenanny of sorts to a city picking itself back up after some of the worst floods it has ever seen.
On any occasion, the stage mere steps from Lake Superior is a delightful spot to spend an evening/ Wilco, with a backdrop of dangling cloth-covered lights, played with the familiarity and warmth of a band truly at home. Spanning back to A.M., the material chosen was a mixture of some of the mellower delights that unfold into guitar freakouts -- notably "Impossible Germany" and "At Least That's What She Said" -- and the "Heavy Metal Drummer" moments that got beer a-spilling and strange-smelling cigarettes burning as the crowd unlocked their bodies and moved themselves to dance.
Photo by Erik Hess
Before going much further, let it be said that Nels Cline is 56 years old, but puts thousands of guitarists half his age to shame. There was no point during the band's 25-song set that he wasn't completely engaged -- he pogoed, high-kicked his Dickies-trousered legs, smashed the fingerboard, and banged his head like every axe-wielder should. Bet he does yoga.
In sum, Wilco's a band that has gotten disturbingly good at seriously not taking itself too seriously. The John Stirratt rolling bassines and harmonies, Mikael Jorgensen and Pat Sansone's key licks, and Glenn Kotche slamming the drums all feed a machine filled with integral parts that are intelligent enough to improve away from repetition. While the singalongs are prompted by Tweedy making his eyes big and shiny as the one of dozens of guitars he played over the night, he's careful to make sure that the instructions are clear and followed.
Photo by Erik Hess
Things turned historic during the second encore: After Tweedy -- wearing a plaid coat and a dashing hat -- began riffing and joking about the group's recent visit to Madison. There, the band became honorary citizens also, he explained, and would Duluth be prepared to offer another token of its appreciation to surpass them? "Maybe a statue up here on the stage," he mused. "Anyone who plays here has to play around us." Then, midway through "Hesitating Beauty," Duluth Mayor Don Ness was carried through the crowd up to the front waving a piece of paper. After he handed it up to Tweedy, the obviously bemused frontman called out "It's the key to the city!" but didn't hesitate to remark that it was the weirdest thing he'd ever seen.
Even the moon got in on the festive atmosphere, and peeked out for a bit during the Mermaid Avenue favorite "California Stars." As is often their custom, "Outtasite (Outta Mind)," was the ideal crunch of twang and pop to close down a night that was magical.
The crowd: An assortment of "cool" parents that seem to be the target demographic for those Toyota Venza ads, some visitors from Twin Cities, and a lot of plain-old Wilco fans who wanted to drink, smoke, and sing along.
Note to the crowd: Chanting "Madison sucks" is never going to make you look good.
Personal bias: Wilco + outdoors in Duluth = How memories should be made.
Random detail: This couple (below) donned bunny ears for the encore. You can also see a owl mounted to Mikael Jorgensen's keyboard rig that was winking at us all night.
Photo by Reed Fischer
Dawned on Me
Always in Love
At Least That's What You Said
Forget the Flowers
Not for the Season
I Must Be High
War on War
Heavy Metal Drummer
I'm the Man Who Loves You
Art of Almost
Happy Birthday > A Shot in the Arm
Outtasite (Outta Mind)
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