Glenn Kotche Interview
What a week it has been for NewbsRadio. The whole team has been busy building maps, writing plays, taking in music, making plans, and checking some exceptional things off of our to-do list.
Here are a few completely random snippits:
Engineer and Editor Rob Malowany – Interview Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche for 45 minutes backstage at Vancouver’s Orpheum: Check!
Co-Host Eric Newby – Watch the Wilco show from the press gallery – spitting distance from the band – and take some great action shots: Check!
Co-Host David Newberry – Write your first ever live concert review. Of a Wilco show: Check!
And so, here comes our most collaborative blog post yet. Click read more to listen to the interview, read the review, and see the photos.
After attending Wilco‘s recent Vancouver concert, it would be tempting to start a review by saying something like:
“Last Sunday, the skinny-white-dudes-with-thick-framed-glasses association of East Vancouver held their biannual guitar-porn conference at the Orpheum on Granville Street. This year’s version of the increasingly popular gathering – launched in 2002 to coincide with the launch of Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot – was thematically built around the topic ‘Rubbing Your Chin, Sighing, and Nodding Your Head Along To Atypical Guitar Solos.’ Keynote speaker Jeff Tweedy delivered banterless, high-octane folk rock music that mixed his well publicized sensitive/tourtured side with ecstatic, celebratory bursts of noise from a band that finished out their evening by returning to the bus to read more textbooks about their respective instruments.”
And granted, the audience was pretty skinny. And male. And bespectacled. And sophisticated. And the band’s three guitar players used at least 21 different axes. And all the other stuff that I wrote up there is, at least technically, correct. But it fails to grasp the fact that Wilco delivered an absolutely stunning three hour long rock show worthy of the history books to a captive audience that spanned at least three generations.
Lead singer Jeff Tweedy‘s lack of conversation (he didn’t even say hello until after the fifth song) allowed the band to whip from song to song, maintaining a pace and intensity that would have left most younger bands gasping for air by the halfway point of the night. The best scientists in the world couldn’t have engineered a more compelling character for guitar nerds than the Jazzmaster playing Nels Cline, who can deliver everything from scorching six-note-per-second face melters to fascinating bedding chords that lie seamlessly under Tweedy’s more straightforward struming. And drummer Glenn Kotche is Cline’s perfect percussive counterpart, drifting effortlessly from the plainspoken rock beats of songs like “Heavy Metal Drummer,” to the counter-intuitive melody-based rhythms of tunes like “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart,” to mathematically baffling polyrhythms in tracks like the U2 Pop-esque “Art Of Almost.” Bassist John Sirratt and multi-instrumentalists Pat Sansone and Mikael Jorgensen, while less flashy, all contribute their sophisticated musicality to a package deal that somehow balances technically impressive nerd-food with equal parts sonic experimentation and stadium worthy rock music.
And herein lies Wilco‘s timeless and exceptional ability: to continue to connect with longtime fans and to gain new ones, while seemingly doing whatever they want. The band, which is three albums into an unprecedented stage of membership-stability, clearly love making and playing music, and have gotten exceptionally good at doing it together. They built their set-list by selecting songs from all over Wilco‘s broad sonic landscape, and delivered them in a way that was coherent enough to never make the audience feel like they had to switch gears too quickly.
But it is more than just music that tied the evening together. The light show, which was based around what looked like 30 long strings of white rags hanging from roof, was dynamic, ever-changing, and impressive without being distracting, and the-hardest-working-technical-crew in the business kept the show running seamlessly and invisibly across a vast swath of different instruments, and an infinite number of guitar switch-overs and gear-swaps.
High points of the show included a re-vamped alt-rock version of “Spiders (Kidsmoke)” from 2004’s tension laden A Ghost Is Born, and alt-country AM throwback “I Must Be High,” which Tweedy proudly proclaimed he hadn’t played in Vancouver for at least 15 years. The start-and-stop-on-a-dime bombastic explosions of “Via Chicago,” while not new territory for the band, were absolutely electrifying in a live setting, and high energy set-ender “A Shot In The Arm,” proved that at 45, Tweedy is still capable of delivering the kind of show stopping alt-rock that he built Wilco on almost 20 years ago.
The band played a sprawling 24 song set that delivered the hits without neglecting the bands earlier, lesser known material, including seven tunes that pre-date Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Concert goers who have been following the band since their early days might lament the fact that Tweedy’s substantial guitar skills are underutilized in favour of Cline’s soaring improvisations and Sansone’s rigid licks and windmill guitar moves, but in the end, Cline and Sansone are an such a pleasure to watch and hear that this criticism is quickly forgotten, and the instrumentation and arrangements of the tunes could never be described as “lacking.”
In the end, what Wilco delivered a great Wilco show. Even in a world where fans can essentially watch a bands entire tour on the YouTube before they even attend the concert, Wilco proved themselves capable of delivering a fresh, living, and technically brilliant set of music that kept the audience on the edge of their seats. And they did it by doing what they do best: playing music.