Show Review: Wilco, White Denim at The Fox Theater – Oakland, 1/31/12

by Dakin Hardwick on February 4, 2012

The success of Chicago experimental-alt.country-indie rock combo Wilco really defies the conventions of a successful rock band. Where most bands become as big as they will get within about 5 years of performing, these guys seem to get bigger and bigger every year. At nearly 20 years into their career, they are doing a “small venue” tour of 3,000 seat theaters, and each date on this tour seemingly sold out in minutes. SpinningPlatters were lucky enough to check them out on the third night of a mini Bay Area tour, where the hit San Jose and San Francisco on Saturday and Sunday respectively.

We were warmed up by the jam band meets indie rock stylings of White Denim. Vocalist James Petralli’s warm falsetto worked well against the band’s fusion of indie rock and jam band. They were a pleasant synthesis of Built To Spill, Woods, Phish, and Allman Brothers. They sounded great, and the crowd loved them. I overheard more than one person comment on how they were the best opening act they have ever seen.

Wilco came out and kicked things off with stunning Suicide meets Neil Young of “Poor Places,” one of the few songs off their 2002 breakout Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. They went straight into a pair of songs off the band’s stunning new album The Whole Love. The two songs were two tracks that represented the range of this record nicely. “Art Of Almost” is a slow, hypnotic wash of synthesizers and guitars that swim around Tweedy’s warm voice. “I Might” is a hard driving, rock n roll rave up, beautifully colored by a beautiful xylophone layer. Within the first 20 minutes of the set, Wilco managed to cover more layers and textures than most bands cover in an entire career.

Now, I could very easily dissect each an every song played and amazing detail, and it would be a fascinating read. It would also be 200,000 words. That might have to wait til the book deal. Instead, you get highlights. “Via Chicago,” a beautiful, near acoustic number in it’s originally recorded version, was recast as an intense experimental piece. Tweedy remained stoic throughout the entire piece, while the rest of the band would occasionally pop in a ferocious burst of avant-garde noise. As you were gently soothed by the beautiful melodies, the band literally shocked your system with pure white noise. As shocking as this piece was, even more shocking was the arrangement of “Spiders (Kidsmoke),” a blistering rock number as it appears on A Ghost Is Born, but tonight has been recast as a tender, acoustic ballad. The song was barely recognizable, only the lyrics remained the same.

Nels Cline

And, by the halfway point of the show, the everything changed. We went from every song becoming a journey into the unknown, to a fun, goofy, rock n roll rave up. It all started with Tweedy telling the crowd that they will be doing a whole set of “delicate tunes in order to express how beautiful the venue was.” He then noted how amp’d the crowd was, and that they want “to rock out.” Of course, he said that they won’t. The they played the Replacements-esque rocker “Born Alone.” The he berated the crowd into singing along with “California Stars,” because, well, we live in California.

The vibe moved into a whole new direction when they played “Hate It Here,” and suddenly we were in an old school R&B concert, with Tweedy ridding himself of the guitar, and truly singing. His range was amazing- singing in a stunning falsetto. I never realized how heavy soul music influenced Wilco are before this show. They even managed to pull out an R&B flavored version of “Heavy Metal Drummer.” It will never cease to amaze me that, no matter how little smoke is prevalent in a room in a room, whenever they hit the lyric “playing Kiss covers,  beautiful and stoned,” the room erupts into a cloud of pot smoke. Wilco aren’t the kind of band that plays the same songs every night, so it’s as if people bring the weed just in case they play “the song.”

John Stirratt

The nearly two hour set ended with the Beatles-esque “Hummingbird.” Although the encore may have been the single longest encore I have ever experienced. The encore was hard driving, and super silly. I would call this the “air guitar” set. Because Nels Cline and Pat Sansome continuously traded solos, and it was blistering. The played the ridiculous “Wilco (The Song)” that stretched out for about five minutes, complete with a robot introducing each member of the band. After the song, Tweedy asked the audience to flip him off “because somebody once told him that getting flipped off means that you are doing a good job.” The he took a picture to “share with his grandkids.” And, if that wasn’t silly enough, the band ended the set with a rendition of “Hoodoo Voodoo,” complete with a shirtless, mustachioed gentleman running around the stage playing cowbell. An epically ridiculous way to end an epic show.

Setlist

Poor Places
Art Of Almost
I Might
Muzzle Of Bees
Via Chicago
Spiders (Kidsmoke)
One Wing
How To Fight Loneliness
Born Alone
California Stars
Impossible Germany
Whole Love
Pot Kettle Black
Hate It Here
Theologians
Can’t Stand It
Heavy Metal Drummer
Dawned On Me
Hummingbird

Encore:
A Shot in the Arm
Wilco (the song)
Passenger Side
Kingpin
Monday
Outtasite (Outta Mind)
Casino Queen
Hoodoo Voodoo

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All photos by Kara Murphy. Check out her Flikr page!

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