Show Review: Wilco with Cibo Matto at The Greek Theater – UC Berkeley, 9/21/12

by Dakin Hardwick on September 26, 2012

Guitar god Nels Cline, as photographed by Emily Anderson.

When The Whole Love was released late last year, I believe that anyone that heard it knew that it was a record that was screaming for a tour. Of course, when it came out, instead of doing a big road show, they opted to play midsize theaters, locking out only the folks with the fastest internet connections or the pockets deep enough to purchase from a scalper. It took almost a year for these guys to finally book a full fledged tour, playing these songs the way they should be played- outdoors, in front of thousands of people. I guess they needed to really get to know these songs before playing them on the big stages. The wait paid off.

Cibo Matto are a band that I am more familiar with on paper than in practice. They are somewhat legendary: a pop group from Japan via New York that was signed to Beastie Boys’ Grand Royal Records and featured Sean Lennon, son of John Lennon and Yoko Ono on guitar. Yet I’ve never actually listened to them before. So, when vocalist Miho Hatori and instrumentalist Yuka Honda took the stage, it was my first experience with this band. They opened with a loungy, quirky pop song with the lyric “a horse’s ass that’s better than yours,” which I later learned was called “Beef Jerky.” Hatori is an fine frontwoman, and she was a joy to watch perform. They first two songs of the set were done as the duo, and the rest of the set was filled out by a bassist and a drummer. That drummer, however, was the legendary Scott Amendola. He added an extra jazzy vibe to the already spaced out jazzy sound.

Miho Hatori

Although Cibo Matto were quite good, their sound was definitely a tough sell on Wilco fans. They definitely didn’t play “rock” music, so in order for Wilco to help sell Cibo Matto to their fans, opted to join Cibo Matto for a song. All of Wilco, aside from Jeff Tweedy, came out and played “Moonshine” as a giant Wilco / Cibo Matto supergroup. This got the crowd moving a bit. However, the show stopper of the set came when Tweedy came out for the lounge rap of “Moonchild.” It was thrilling because, for the first time ever in front of any audience, Tweedy attempted to rap. It may have been the cutest thing to ever happen on stage at The Greek.

Wilco opened their set with the poppy double header of “Dawned On Me” from last year’s excellent The Whole Love and “War On War,” a track of their 2001 breakthrough Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. These two songs are warm, bouncy, and instantly accessible. At first I suspected that these songs were selected in order to set the tone for the evening. Of course, since these folks have been doing this for a long time, they know the importance of the art of surprise. They went straight into the “weirder” side of Wilco. The chugged straight into the angular post punk of “I Might.” This was the Wilco we got tonight. And they sounded fantastic.

Jeff Tweedy

This was the 4th show Wilco have played in the Bay Area this year, making up for their two year break from 2010-11. The shows earlier this year were fantastic, but this show had the feel of a band that had been on the road for a while and needed to branch out. Avant garde guitar virtuoso Nels Cline, who first joined the band in 2004, seems to finally figured out how to bring meld is experimental sensibility to he band’s live show, spending most of the set playing guitar in every possible way other than strumming strings with one hand and pressing strings on the fret board with the other hand. He helped create many weird and loud sounds, without distracting from the root of the songs.

One song that they’ve been playing pretty consistently throughout this tour has been a mellowed out version of 2004’s A Ghost Is Born’s “Spiders (Kidsmoke)” Although the arrangement is really interested, I actually sighed when I realized that we were getting this version of this song again! Then, right at the halfway point in the song, they took it back to the big, guitar driven version of the original album version. In fact, they brought it even bigger, turning it into a song that melds together art rock and air guitar into a piece of super sonic splendor. Even better was the fact that we got a rare performance of a track from Tweedy and drummer Glenn Kotche’s noisey side project Loose Fur: “Laminated Cat,” sounding even better with the noise being duplicated by a 6 piece rock band, as opposed to a trio.

Of course, since this one of the most popular bands currently touring, they couldn’t be totally inaccessible. (Not that the crowd was complaining about the craziness) The band has hits, and they made sure to play them. The first moment of Wilco: The Pop Stars was the performance of “Handshake Drugs” which evolved into one of the wordiest sing alongs about buying drugs ever. Only in Berkeley would there be such a literate appreciation of narcotics. The main set closed with a blistering double header of “Heavy Metal Drummer” and “I Am The Man That Loves You,” where the two songs were bridged together by Kotche playing a mean double fisted cow bell solo.

Glenn Kotche

Wilco are known for their long encores, and tonight was no exception. This encore took the show to a full 2 hours, beginning with an abbreviated version of “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart,” which Tweedy didn’t need to go to the microphone once, because the whole audience took over the vocals. He literally performed in front of his mic. It was a bit disconcerting when they abruptly stopped the song instead of letting it build up into pure chaos of the album version, instead they did the throbbing “Art Of Almost.”

The band made it through 9 songs in their two encores, yet the crowd kept begging for more. They ended the show with what is now a traditional show closer of “Hoodoo Voodoo,” complete with a roadie dancing around the stage shirtless. Yet, since the audience didn’t want the band to leave, it all ended with the rocker “Outtasite (Outta Mind)”, leaving everyone in the crowd fully sated.

Setlist:

Dawned On Me
War On War
I Might
Sunken Treasure
Black Moon
Spiders (Kidsmoke)
Impossible Germany
Born Alone
Laminated Cat (aka Not For The Season)
Radio Cure
Handshake Drugs
Wishful Thinking
Shouldn’t Be Ashamed
Whole Love
Box Full Of Letters
Always In Love
Heavy Metal Drummer
I’m the Man Who Loves You
..
I Am Trying to Break Your Heart
Art of Almost
Standing O
California Stars
Magazine Called Sunset
Hummingbird
Shot In The Arm
..
Hoodoo Voodoo
Outtasite (Outta Mind)

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