Saturday, April 13, 2013

Wilco & Mavis Staples

Occasionally, as a fan of live music, you see a line-up that is top-to-bottom drool worthy. (A couple I remember some twenty years later - Sonic Youth toured the ‘Dirty’ LP in the UK with Pavement and Royal Trux. Rage Against The Machine toured their first LP with Tool and Wool (effectively Scream less Dave Grohl) – in both cases I was sadly too young to attend).

I think Wilco’s latest tour falls into this category, having the legendary Mavis Staples (ex-of The Staple Singers) as special guest.

Last year saw the release of Staples’ critically acclaimed ‘You Are Not Alone’ LP, which was produced (and largely written) by Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy.

I bought the LP when it came out and was a little disappointed. Don’t get me wrong – it’s a good record – but it’s perhaps not as jaw-dropping as a Mojo review that I’d read of it. I’ve listened to it a couple of times since and it’s become a sort of background go-to.

That notwithstanding, I was very excited to see her live. I love the Staple Singers – both vocally and Pop’s guitar playing (famously on a 50’s Fender Jazzmaster – not unlike the one played by Nels Cline from Wilco).
Before Staples took to the stage, I realised how small her band is: one guitar, bass and drums with three backing singers. I’m actually taken aback that the LP (which sounds really full) is basically the same line up.
The smallest soul revue ever?
Staples took to the stage to rapturous applause - and then proceeded to absolutely blow the roof off.

Frankly, she was well worth the price of admission alone. Her set took in Staple Singers material (interestingly, as Mavis’ voice has deepened, she’s taken on her father, Pops Staples’ vocal parts), covers of popular tunes such as ‘The Weight’ by The Band and, towards the end – with the arrival of a familiar looking, slightly dishevelled man (Tweedy) playing a Gibson SJ-200, the title track from her last LP.
Moonlighting - Tweedy Style
Another late highlight was the Gospel call-and-response of The Staple Singers ‘I'll Take You There’.

As she finished, my girlfriend said that it had been one of her top ten gigs ever.

So, how do you follow that?

Well, Wilco are widely regarded as being one of the best live bands around today. (I will note that people do also say that about Muse, who are in my opinion simply abysmal, however).

In the late nineties, I largely listened to Alt-Country, before going on a ten year long dance music tip. Wilco’s classic ‘Being Here’ double LP was a record that I hammered at the time and am most familiar with.

It was however, rather reassuring that they opened with the LP’s opener ‘Misunderstood’. From there, they went into more experimental territory with ‘Art Of Almost’. A couple of tracks in and it became immediately evident – Wilco are as amazing live as people make out.

Other reviews tell me that ‘I Might’, ‘Via Chicago’, ‘Impossible Germany’, ‘Spiders (Kidsmoke)’, ‘Capitol City’ (which Tweedy said was included in the set in tribute to Wellington), ‘Born Alone’, ‘Walken’, ‘Handshake Drugs’, ‘Heavy Metal Drummer’, ‘A Shot in the Arm’, ‘Jesus, Etc’ all made an appearance, but for me (as a fair-weather Wilco fan) it was inclusion of my favourite ‘Being Here’ track, ‘Sunken Treasure’ that provided a highlight.

Wilco received two encores – the second of which was after the doors were opened and some of the crowd had left. They reappeared and launched into a blistering version of ‘Outtasite (Outta Mind)’, which had the remaining crowd in the balcony dancing in the aisles.

Top ten gigs ever? You betcha. 

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