Although we’re not quite as into Wilco’s new record as seemingly everyone at the New York Times is, we made sure to make our way out to Coney Island last night to take in the band’s fitter, happier, more productive sound. We caught Jeff Tweedy and company’s tremendous set in the hinterlands of Tennessee at Bonnaroo last month, and as soon as we found out that they would be performing their only local date on this tour at a nontraditional outdoor venue — Keyspan Park, a baseball field that’s normally home to the Class-A Brooklyn Cyclones — we immediately secured ourselves tickets to the show. With the intoxicating smells of Coney dogs and salt water wafting in the breeze, the dad rockers clearly drew inspiration from the unique surroundings; at one point, the formerly surly Tweedy even led the crowd in a gleeful and spontaneous “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” sing-along.
As evidenced by the band’s recent decision to take a decidedly less serious (and, at times, even bordering on humorous) approach to musicmaking, Tweedy used the opportunity to try to score some laughs from the largely gray-haired crowd with some localized banter. “Do people even live in Coney Island?” he wondered aloud at one point. “Circus geeks?” While one might infer that their newly breezy onstage demeanor and their less experimental approach in the recording studio has made Wilco, um, soft, the fact of the matter is that the band has never sounded richer and more expressive in a live setting than they have on this tour.
In particular, Tweedy has made the wise decision to give new(ish) guitarist Nels Cline as much room to breathe as possible, which paid amazing dividends on extended jams like “Impossible Germany” and a newly arranged “Handshake Drugs.” But, lest you think the band has drifted too closely to jam-band territory — something the crowd was clearly eating up, by the way — they proved they still have the power to deliver the rock during their encore, which began with “Heavy Metal Drummer” and wrapped up with a
barn- ballpark-burning set-closer, “Spiders (Kidsmoke).” As the entire audience outstretched their arms and ecstatically clapped along to Glenn Kotche’s propulsive drumbeat, Tweedy quipped to the crowd, “You look like a Quiet Riot audience.” And based on some of the temporary headbanging the mention elicited, we’re guessing most everyone in the crowd was old enough to catch the reference.