Vail, Colorado, a town which has transformed continuously from humble beginnings to become a world-class ski destination, celebrated its 50th anniversary Saturday night. It seemed only fitting that Wilco, a world-class rock band with constant forward momentum, should be brought in to rock the festivities.
Wilco formed after the disbandment of the alt-country sensation Uncle Tupelo in 1994. Front man Jeff Tweedy has always been one to fully control his musical destiny. His splits from Jay Farrar in Uncle Tupelo and subsequently from original Wilco bandmate Jay Bennett are enough evidence. Wilco has made a career of changing musical direction with every studio album and rarely looking back. The result is a diverse catalog of songs that has disheartened the purist fans of their early twangy sound but found a new audience that continues to build to this day.
Supporting act Nathaniel Rateliff, of Denver, was well-received. His sound had the pulse and layering heard from Arcade Fire but was held together by Rateliff's voice in harmony with stand-up bassist Julie Davis'. I'd keep my eye on this act as one with the potential to break out in the near future.
Wilco took the stage at 8:30 p.m. and played straight through to its 10 p.m. curfew, noting that to walk off stage and return for an encore would take away time in which they could be playing on. The chilly winter air and gentle snow flurries weren't enough to force the Chicago-based band to bust out the fingerless gloves. Guitarist Nels Cline even ditched his coat after one song. His lanky frame never stopped moving, and it seemed a shredding solo was never too far off to keep him warm.
This was a special one-off show and not part of a tour. Knowing this, it was not a surprise that the set list comprised mostly Wilco's biggest hits. The band likes to be well-rehearsed for every show, so songs that they've played the most often are the safest. "Heavy Metal Drummer," "California (Colorado) Stars," "Handshake Drugs" and a rearrangement of "Spiders (Kidsmoke)" were all played to the bundled-up crowd, which danced just a bit harder to keep the knees from stiffening in the cold.
Tweedy addressed the crowd a few times throughout the 90-minute show. He bantered mostly about the chilly temperature of the evening, saying he'd never seen so many stocking hats at a show before. The crowd was a "sea of fuzzy creatures." He also exclaimed the difficulties of keeping their guitars in tune, later stating, "Maybe it doesn't matter," after Cline ripped through a solo with at least one string amiss.
Highlights of the set were crowd favorites, "Shot in the Arm," "Hate It Here" and "I'm the Man Who Loves You," which closed out the concert. One of their newer songs, "Art of Almost," stood out among the rest. Its pulsating rhythms and ominous tone really translates well out of the studio and into the live rock concert setting. The sound-synchronized strobe lights facing out over the crowd illuminated the thousands of tiny snowflakes in the air overhead as the song peaked.
Bob Bloczynski is a DJ for 107.9 Radio Free Minturn. His funk and soul radio show, "Get Up and Get Down with Bobby B," airs Tuesday mornings from 7 to 9.