Concerts Concerts Wilco Returns to Massey Hall

Wilco Returns to Massey Hall

Wilco at Massey Hall
Massey Hall in Toronto, ON
September 16, 2011

Review by: Chad Hutchings
Photos by: Julie Lavelle

The alt-rock six piece reminds us why they're legendary.


I became a Wilco fan reluctantly. First impressions are to blame, back when I was a mid-nineties alterna-teen, seeing their video for "Outtasite" in rotation on MuchMusic. With no experimental guitar work and no angsty lines, I guess they just didn't speak to me, and the negative association stuck, as most tend to do when they come in those formative years.

So this endured for somewhere around a decade, until I'd heard enough hype to force me into finally letting a little Wilco into my life. And, while I've never been the kind of obsessive fan that the band seems to breed, I'll always appreciate them and keep them as a forerunner for most well-rounded playlists. And I will always love seeing their work live — not because of some bias like the one that kept me from listening to them in the first place, but because this is a group that seems to be incapable of putting on a bad show, and will likely stay that way until Jeff Tweedy's voice and Nels Cline's hands succumb to the wrath of old age. Now, don't get me wrong, I don't think Wilco is infallible. It's easily argued that they've been coasting post-peak for a good while now, pumping out new work to propel the live performances for which they are so well known. For that matter, those live shows of theirs aren't all squeaky clean either, and Friday's set at Massey Hall wasn't without its faults.

Take, for instance, the sprawling time that passed before the audience was even acknowledged. Nine songs down, and not a word was spoken unless it was in song. Where was that wry charm that everyone had come to expect from Tweedy? Earlier this year, his solo performance at Queen Elizabeth Theatre was practically a conversation with the artist, and that's just the kind of interaction people have learned to expect when he takes the stage, with or without the band. Luckily (if this can actually be considered lucky), the enigmatic lead finally stumbled and forgot the lyrics of "She's A Jar", forcing him into easy banter that didn't quit until the venue's curfew pushed the group off-stage after a four song encore. 

Silences and other small shortcomings aside, though, Friday's appearance was practically a highlight reel; the night was much like watching a concert video pieced together from the best moments of an entire tour. The group's live rendition of "Via Chicago" was a soft center of folky goodness wrapped in some completely bewildering drum chaos. Cline's guitar solo in "Impossible Germany" was a great taste of everything we should love about proper rock and roll. Hell, the whole set panned out to be monumental — a fact that is monumentally unsurprising. 

The group spent a solid two hours in majestic Massey, doing what they do best — stunning an audience that went in knowing they would be stunned. From the heights of the megalithic opener "Art Of Almost" (accented by a light-show reminiscent of a television interpretation of an acid trip) to the lows of the melancholic "Reservations", the performance was rich and magnificent. But that's exactly what we would all expect from Wilco, a band who has spent so much time on top that they could only surprise their fans by disappointing them. They've spent their careers throwing off the curve. So, in that light, on top of the awe over the fantastic performance that the band dished out, people leaving Massey Hall last week were sure to be feeling a certain sense of relief.  Friday wasn't the day that Wilco came up short. We weren't there when it happened.

Here's to hoping that the day never comes.

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