In early September, two of Chicago's finest musical outputs played separate headlining sold out gigs. One was in the back lots near the Hideout, and the other was at the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park. Both represent Chicago in its purest forms, but in different manners. One is obviously more rock and roll than the other, while the other is obviously more a treat on the eyes. Yet both were a great example of what these two separate acts have risen to. Andrew Bird, playing the main slot of the Hideout Block Party, and Wilco, from its days playing clubs throughout the environs of the Chicago cityscape, culminating to a homecoming show of sorts at the newest gem of the downtown area. It is about persistence for both acts, and well deserved payoffs. A Cinderella story of sorts I suppose, but staving off the need to get nostaligic and sappy about it, it is really just proper rock and roll.
A few weeks later, both of these acts, took their combined musical endeavors north of the border (the fabeled Wisconsin border) to our neighbors in Milwaukee. It was sure to be a treat. Andrew Bird, in a "rare solo performance" and Wilco, playing to a crowd indoors (which is becoming harder to experience in Chicago, what with the rampant super fandom abounding through the streets).
I have trouble criticizing anything Bird has done since Weather Systems, and his set, while short, was pretty sweet. Though he did suffer from the Milwaukee echo chamber that is the Eagle's Ballroom, he did prove that a broken down Bird is still a winged creature of a magnanimous sort. After all, when he does tour with a band, he is Andrew Bird, not the Andrew Bird band, etc. His music stands on its own, when he is standing on his own, if you will. Quietly he spoke "Hello, I'm Andrew Bird, so nice to meet you. I'm from Chicago", and the crowd bellowed out in fellow representation. It looked as if I was not the only one to make it up from home. If there was one thing that the crowd could not be accused of, it was lack of passion.
Much of the crowd was familiar with Andrew Bird, a few of them mentioning his set at Bonnaroo last summer and how amazing it was, but you could tell from the break between acts that what everyone was really ready for was Wilco. I spoke to a few of the kids up front and they had driven from exotic places like Green Bay to see the show. One of the oddest aspects of the show that struck me was that there was no other photographer for Bird, and only one other for Wilco, who quickly left after the mandatory three song limit. (As these big ole shows, us photogs have only the first three songs to shoot the band).
Wilco began the show, amid cheers and mass screaming, to the second song (You Are My Face) off their new album Sky Blue Sky. Like this new stage of Wilco or not, you would be stretching the limits of truth by claiming they do not have their shit together. They are a conglomerate of styles and approaches, of experience and dress, but they are a solid unit of Wilcodom. The initial part of their extended set focused on newer material with the second song coming in at "I am Trying to Break Your Heart" from Yankee Foxtrot, followed by dabbling in A Ghost is Born, and always coming back to Sky. As they moved through their catalog they left the older material for the end, and as I was singing along to "I Got You (At The End of the Century)" as if unsure which one they meant, and ok with either one.