Monday, April 12, 2010

Week O' Wilco: Outtasite at the Electric Factory

Most people, if they're lucky, encounter the Divine perhaps twice in a lifetime. This past Saturday, I felt the presence of a higher power twice in a single evening.

First was when I bit into a kobe beef skewer at the new Asian Fusion restaurant Sampan in downtown Philadelphia. The second time was about two hours later at the Electric Factory, on the industrial side of town, when Wilco launched into "California Stars."

"California Stars," the Woody Guthrie/Jeff Tweedy masterpiece from 1998's Mermaid Avenue, was just one of 39 songs the band played in the accurately billed "An Evening with Wilco."

With no opening act, the band took the stage at this high-ceilinged warehouse promptly at 8:30 pm and ended somewhere around 11:45 with "Outtasite (Outtamind)," which came 15 songs after an acoustic version of "Outtamind (Outtasite)." My friend Scott and I discussed the similarities between this Being There semi-hit and a song one might hear on Sesame Street or Schoolhouse Rock, but maybe that was just the Yuengling talking.

While the Nels Cline-generated feedback swelled during "Poor Places," Tiffany lamps were placed on stage and the band launched into an acoustic version of "Spiders (Kidsmoke)" that was completely free of its traditional Kraut-Rock outer shell and revealed a song underneath that I didn't know was there. Watching them on this stage, I was reminded of the early part of the Talking Heads concert film Stop Making Sense, wherein the band also made excellent use of ambient living room furniture. The acoustic set lasted about half an hour and included deep tracks like "Sunken Treasure," "Passenger Side" and the already acoustic "War on War."

Another highlight was the fan favorite "Jesus, Etc." Knowing the place this song holds in the hearts of the devoted, Tweedy told the crowd "Why don't you guys sing this one" and the audience sang every word perfectly from start to finish. Near the end of the show, they paid tribute to the Late Great Alex Chilton with the Big Star party anthem "In the Street," better known to many as the theme from That 70s Show, with loyal bassist John Stirrat taking lead vocals.

With this tour, Wilco has clearly taken their deserved place on the toppermost shelf of the great working bands in this country or any other. Until our next Week O' Wilco, here's our heroes doing "One Wing" on The Craig Ferguson Show a couple months back.

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