Wilco makes the most of a summer night in Newport
By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK Editor
It’s said that, after being hit by a bomb from a passing bird, good fortune awaits.
That was the case, and the hope, for me after one of the many seagulls swirling around Fort Adams State Park in Newport relieved himself mid-flight on my shoulder, leaving my Sonic Youth t-shirt a little more decorated than I would’ve liked.
I went through the five stages of being pooped on — disbelief, horror, anger, bargaining, buying water to clean myself off — and then was quickly reminded by a friend and some well-wishers that this was typically a sign of good luck.
As soon as Wilco took the stage, they jumped into Woody Guthrie’s “Christ for President,” two songs from their fantastic 2011 record The Whole Love and then, “Poor Places,” the epic anchor on their finest work, 2002’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.
When the drones and noises of “Poor Places” started, I knew the aerial crap had not been in vain. This was going to be a fun, weird day.
The day itself had already been a trip. What started as an overcast sky turned into a light rain as Megafaun took the stage. It wasn’t long before that light rain turned torrential, sadly shortening a Blitzen Trapper’s fantastic set that walked the line between country and raging rock.
By the time Wilco were due up, most of the clouds had passed, leaving an idyllic scene overlooking Newport Harbor. The sunshine, light breeze and festival vibe made this feel like the perfect summer scene, and the band were obviously in high spirits.
Wilco, moreso than many bands I’ve seen, adapt to their surroundings well. They’re serious and focused when playing in theaters, they turn it up and rock out in arenas, and in outdoor settings, they’re loose, funny and engaging. Though sometimes moody, Tweedy was smiling and obviously in a good mood. And why wouldn’t he be; the torrential rain had passed into memory, and in its place was a happy, polite crowd willing to take in whatever was in store.
The band delivered with a setlist that drew on their entire catalog, even reaching into Tweedy and Glenn Kotche’s Loose Fur project with “Laminated Cat.” And on the eve of the Newport Folk Festival, of which this show was a sort of kick-off event, the band paid tribute to the history of the festival, playing four Guthrie songs from their Mermaid Avenue albums, in celebration of Guthrie’s 100th birthday. Two songs — “California Stars” and “Airline to Heaven” — got the full family treatment with his grandaughter Sara Lee Guthrie and her husband Johnny Irion joining in on vocals.
The result of all this? Fun. Nels Cline and Pat Sansone traded licks on “Hoodoo Voodoo” for a good five minutes while the rest of the band bashed away. In the second encore, a shirtless man with a handlebar mustache started banging a cowbell on stage. In middle of the main set, Tweedy relayed a story of being 14 and waiting for the Ramones, complete with horrific fashion admissions and dead-on impressions of Dee Dee and Joey Ramone. Later, Tweedy even revealed a vicious case of hat hair when he lifted his chapeau in acknowledgement of the crowd.
Being one of the more important bands of the past century can lead to serious shows, and rightfully so. Music, when taken seriously, is an intense art form that should be treated as such.
Sometimes, though, you’re just a band in the park, playing to the landing in the summer. Sometimes, the rain clears and it’s time for fun. Sometimes, you’re a fan who’s just been pooped upon and wants to hear some good tunes. More than most, Wilco understands that.
E-mail Nick Tavares at firstname.lastname@example.org