The impressive Bridgewater Hall in Manchester was opened in 1996 as a home for Manchester's Halle Orchestra . There are soft coverings on some of surfaces presumably to reduce the echo and whole thing stands on a bed of 280 giant springs so that nearby train and road noise doesn't interfere with the music. It's a venue designed and built for music to be played in, heard and appreciated, a perfect choice for this evening of exceptional musicianship.
First on tonight is an early kick off (7pm) for a far too short 30 minutes in the company of the always wonderful singer-songwriter Courtney Marie Andrews and band. Courtney's music comes from country end of Americana acting as a complement to Wilco's most recent 'Cruel Country' album. She plays a set of beautiful achy/ heart-breaky tunes mainly from 'Old Flowers' and 'Loose Future' her most recent album; ending with a stunning version of 'If I Told ' and for the first time tonight the tear ducts get a workout.
The main attraction is Wilco , who have been regularly releasing fresh and unconventional guitar based music for nearly 20 years in their current line-up (nearly 30 years in total), showcasing Jeff Tweedy's ability to capture a melody and the superb musicianship of the band. Opening with a couple of tracks from 2004 album 'A Ghost is Born.' 'Hell is Chrome' has a gentle pace which is echoed in the gently strummed guitar intro to 'Handshake Drugs' in which Jeff Tweedy explores his painkiller addiction amongst the streets of Chicago the songs dissolves into a brutal, disharmonious guitar solo from lead guitarist Nels Cline.
There are couple of tracks from Wilco's most recent album leaning on their interpretation of country music 'Cruel Country.' The title track and ' I Am My Mother' highlights Nels and multi-talented, multi-instrumentalist Pat Sansone trading slide guitar solos giving these tracks their country-style feel. Glenn Kotche contributes to the heavy weight talent on display during 'I Am Trying To Break Your Heart ' with his best multi-percussionist, poly-rhythmic human octopus impression, from my lofty elevation seated up in the Circle the word 'drummer' doesn't do his performance and ability any justice.
''This is the first show we've played on the UK tour to a seated audience'' Jeff Tweedy songwriter and lead vocalist explains to the audience “I'm not saying you're lazy or anything , I find it quite refined.'' The second personally touchingly tearful moment of the evening comes with the amalgam of Nels' perfect solo in 'Hummingbird' with the song lyrics 'So he slept on a mountain, In a sleeping bag underneath the stars, He would lie awake and count them, And the grey fountain spray of the great Milky Way, Would never let him die alone'.
More musical virtuosity appears in the track 'Impossible Germany' . The one track that Jeff and Nels said in a recent interview has a regular slot in the live set list as they they like to see where Nels takes the improvised solo each night. Well tonight it's on a supersonic, melodic, psychedelia, rock freak out which receives the standing ovation it thoroughly deserves.
The new Wilco album 'Cousin' produced by Cate le Bon is released at the end of September and the album teaser 'Evicted' is just a perfect pop song with gorgeous harmonies. From the refreshingly new to the familiar as the previously seated audience is dancing to 'Heavy Metal Drummer.' 'She fell in love with the drummer, another then another ' as the band are 'playing Kiss covers beautiful and stoned.'
“We don't really mind playing to a seated audience” explains Jeff at the start of the encores “except this guy (pointing to the front row) has a shirt with 'Disappointing' on it. Where did you get your shirt ?” ( it's a John Grant shirt). Jeff jokingly asks the gentleman to turn it inside out (a request to which he obliges) Jeff jests that the “shirt says 'You're Doing Great' now.”
For the encore Courtney Marie Andrews joins Wilco for the Leslie Feist part in 'You and I', Jeff and Courtney's voices ring out in this lovely musical space and for the final time of the tour a duet of ' California Stars' both songs are of course gorgeous. The show finishes with twelve minutes of Kraut, drone-rock of 'Spiders ( kidsmoke)' . The audience are encouraged to clap and chant the main riff towards the end of the track “ I've seen football on TV I know you can be louder” teases Jeff, before a nod to Glenn is met by a 'thumbs up' as the cue for the band to blast the main riff a couple more times to finish the set with a bank of noise.
Wilco's subtle musical virtuosity playing a set list of songs which offers beautiful, memorable harmonies accompanying songs of complex emotions sounds sublime in this ideal venue. Are Wilco currently the best American live band around ? Probably.