I have a policy of going to only one Wilco show per tour, and it has served me pretty well. The band is great, one of my favorite bands. The band is great live, one of everyone’s favorites at festivals and whatnot. But the band isn’t great at evolving shows over a tour. If you’ve seen them once on a tour, you can largely imagine a show months later. The band makes some changes but not many.
That said, after I skipped the Wilco shows at Wolf Trap earlier this month, I questioned my policy. The band played an acoustic version of Spiders (Kidsmoke)? They played a rock version of Laminated Cat? Sure, They closed one night with Hoodoo Voodoo? The rest of the setlists didn’t rock my world, but those three caught the collector in me. I had never heard them played.
So, it was sure an excellent thing last night when the NPR Music broadcast from the Newport Folk Festival found the band playing all three. The big win turned out to be acoustic Spiders. I’d also liked the rock version, on record and live, and the lighter take was a quality psychic switch. NPR Music preserved the audio from the show here, with the song beginning at at 19:19 mark.
This morning saw a bunch of Wilco-playing around the apartment. The week had been exhausting with long hours at work and new meetings seemingly every half hour. This morning was a counterweight. Found the Spiders from last night. Found a cool mini-doc on Tweedy’s prep for a benefit show. Found, again, because it’s always watchable, Tweedy doing the WGN weather.
Found a decent video of acoustic Spiders in Paris. Found myself rereading the lyrics and remembering how angry and useful the song had been for me when it first came out. We appeared to go through our lives as people expected of us, but we saw and felt much more than what others expected us to share. I was 25 and felt trapped in copy-paste work. I was 25 and, as such, unable to express how I felt trapped or come up with much of a plan for how to get un-trapped. The song offered assurances. As long as a wisp of kidsmoke was present and you alone could see it wafting, we could all fool each other as we went about our lives and hold out hope for realness.
You could interpret the song more darkly. I never have.
I’m more than a few years from that 25-year-old now. Life has figured out or at least lessened concerns of expectation and expression. Angry songs aren’t as useful as they used to be. Wistful songs help more now. They’re an inducement against anger but also against wistfulness. As others knock off life events faster than I do, the songs remind one to keep faith in the long term.
In the video of Tweedy prepping for the benefit show, he starts singing a song I’ve never heard before. From Google, I learn it’s an Uncle Tupelo outtake called Wherever. “When you get back from wherever / Let me know what it’s like / And I’ll tell you, I’ll tell you / What it’s like to watch you go.” The song is simple and wistful. The song is young and petty but full of real worry.