German politeness and Wilco

Germans’ strict adherence to order can be annoying on, say, escalators. But it came in handy at the Wilco show I saw on Saturday.

There wasn’t much incentive to get a better view of the warmup act. (Note to readers: If you have a chance to see Jonathan Wilson … don’t.) But for the big act, of course, I wanted to be up close and personal. Between the two sets, a few intrepid audience members walked up to the standing area in front of the stage, while the other 3,000+ concertgoers stayed politely in their assigned seats. I, of course, was among the intrepid few.

The others grumbled, but when the show began, they inevitably joined us. Luckily, I had already staked my claim to a spot about six feet from lead singer Jeff Tweedy.

Which made my first Wilco show a pretty amazing one. It all felt very personal. I could swear Tweedy was giving me some dirty looks early on, but it soon turned to a friendly audience-performer flirtation. When he asked the crowd near the end of the show, “Are you all ready to go home?,” he was met with loud cheers. He looked confused. I told him, “They can’t understand you.” He smiled, and I’ll just assume he was smiling at my wit.

They played most of the hits, very true to the album versions. More than most bands, Wilco are sound technicians: Every little bit of noise is deliberate. There’s the manic middle-aged lead guitarist-cum-chaos engineer, who practically convulses as he creates a symphony of carefully planned scratches and throbs and slaps. There’s the drummer, whose kit mixes the usual snare and tom-toms and such with a whole host of chimes and blocks and artistically mangled cymbals. And then there’s Tweedy, who ties it all together with a combination of the orderly and the disorderly, topped off with his slightly strained voice that hasn’t changed a bit over 20 years.

The venue helped, too. First off, it looks like this: 

It’s kind of like a giant lampshade, which is handy, because inside there are lots of lamps hanging upside down above the stage, flashing on and off in just the right way. During “Via Chicago,” for instance, it was all peace and order until the cacophonous part started, at which point the lights shut off and a lightning storm of visual effects began.

So the concert was pretty great. But just to make sure my Saturday night was the best I’d had in quite a while, I was whisked off to a party after the show that could only exist in Berlin. It was in a defunct indoor swimming pool complex, and it was half art exhibit and half massive dance party, with two DJs in the sprawling industrial basement. Honestly, I can’t even describe it. All I can say is thanks, Berlin.

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