For my 20th Wilco show in 20 years, it was a veritable feast to see and hear the band at Radio City Music Hall, one of the most breathtaking spaces I’ve ever been in. With incredible acoustics and views from the lofty third mezzanine, in addition to the art-deco delights throughout the venue, I never wanted to leave.
The concert itself was first rate, beginning with Daughter Of Swords’ astounding opening set, in which folk singer Alexandra Sauser-Monnig filled the cavernous room with only her flute-like voice and her delicate acoustic guitar—and even more so on a number of a cappella tunes.
Wilco’s set was pretty standard Wilco fare, which is to say an excellent mix of songs that speak to my soul (“Via Chicago,” “Reservations,” “How To Fight Loneliness”), solid staples (“War On War,” “Impossible Germany,” “Bull Black Nova,” “Random Name Generator”), A Ghost Is Born tracks I don’t always connect with but did at Radio City Music Hall (“Handshake Drugs,” “At Least That’s What You Said,” “Theologians”) and new material.
It was that new material—eight songs from Ode To Joy—that formed the spine of the show, and if none of them has yet lodged too deep in my soul or too firmly in my mind, they were all played with conviction and sounded in line with what I seek from Wilco at this point in its evolution and mine.
Introspective, empathetic and outwardly calm, “Everyone Hides,” “White Wooden Cross, “Hold Me Anyway” and “Love Is Everywhere (Beware)” capture a desperation to be OK in a world that isn’t, and if they lack the drama of unplayed faves like “Art Of Almost” or “A Shot In The Arm,” they do a better job of embodying this moment, being here rather than being there—whether “there” is an amphitheater in Raleigh, N.C., in 1999 or Central Park in 2003, in a North Adams, Mass., field filled with devoted Wilco fans this summer or all alone in my dorm room playing a pre-release promo CD of A.M. in 1995.
Being here is a bummer, being here is a thrill; being here is unattainable, unsustainable and all there is. Being here—where “here” is the highest section of Radio City Music Hall on a beautiful autumn night in October 2019—is absolutely perfect and will never happen again and will happen in my head, albeit in fragmented form, whenever I want.
—M.J. Fine; photos by Chris Sikich