Photos by Lucas Samuels
What sounded like a growling siren was really just guitarist Nels Cline manipulating the hell out of his instrument on the set opener, “Wilco (The Song)” as Wilco opened their sold-out two night stint at one of Toronto’s most beautiful and legendary venues, Massey Hall. The band was eager to show off some of their newer tunes, relying heavily on material from their latest release Wilco (The Album). Still the group has a longstanding history with Toronto and on this evening, Wilco made sure to dig deep into their vast catalog. Jeff Tweedy, who seemed to be in especially good spirits even took a request from the audience as the band launched into “Pot Kettle Black.”
While usually much more talkative, the shaggy haired front man acknowledged Massey Hall’s tight curfew and said he would rather fill the set with songs rather than the usual banter. “Theologians” saw each axe man singing in a ridiculously high, playful register, while Cline graciously gave up the spotlight for a one-footed Tweedy guitar solo during “I’m The Man Who Loves You.” A bit earlier they also pulled out the Spanish-tinged “How To Fight Loneliness,” which was surprisingly poorly received, as many fans chose to catch their breath and take their seats during this slow but lovely number.
In predictable Wilco style, the band left stage only to return for a characteristically long encore. They brought out show opener (and potential Jack Black impersonator) Liam Finn for a rousing rendition of the uber-poppy “You Never Know” before launching into the grungy, old school rocker “Can’t Stand It.” The group then displayed their jammier side during a four song finale as “Walken” segued effortlessly into the garage-rocker “Monday,” then into “Outtamind (Outta Site),” before capping off with a monstrously extended version of “Hoodoo Voodoo” which featured a wild guitar duel between fan favorite Nels Cline and serious underdog Pat Sansone. Both men clearly emerged as the victor judging by the crowd’s cheers on an evening when Wilco set the bar high for the first of two in Toronto.