Do you copy?

Wilco and Fog make everything clear and fuzzy

by Nathan Hall

We are pressed up uncomfortably against steel-reinforced wooden barricades, squinting against the sun and dining on foot-long hot dogs, rapidly melting ice cream cones and artificially flavored shaved ice. Most of us are disaffected, underage, white, indie-rock types, trying to scam beer off the grown-ups. We feel strangely compelled to sport our new concert T-shirts in order to prove to ourselves we really are here right now. We are gathered here today next to a gigantic cherry spoon. All 8,000 of us are united by a common cause – to hear some Wilco.

With ominous luxury apartments looming in the background and menacing highway traffic waiting just outside the plastic gates, we remain safe and secure within our makeshift shrubbery-infested fortress of solitude. An oily disc jockey for a radio station that has probably never played Wilco before announces that his employer is proud to be sponsoring this fine, fun-filled family event. Multi-national corporations are graciously thanked. The Sculpture Garden’s 15th anniversary, the initial cause for this celebratory affair, rapidly becomes irrelevant. The scent of marijuana hangs in the air.

Fog brings us the sweet sounds of cardinal mating calls, launching into “Plum Dumb” as a creepy refrain of “which nobody can deny!” is repeated ad infinitium. “What A Day Day” comes off sarcastic and smarmy, with a propulsive acoustic guitar riff accenting haphazard, charming, foot-stomping vocals. “The Girl from the Gum Commercial” flat out refuses any sort of logical music path. “No Boys Allowed” is unfortunately half-baked Alaska, a bloody musical miscarriage but a valiant stab nonetheless. Everyone is running around, madly switching instruments like carefully choreographed anarchy. Fog live is the audio equivalent of cleaning out your refrigerator, a revenge of the nerds for all the high school band kids relegated to auxiliary instruments such as finger cymbals or mini-triangles. Stove covers magically become cooler than electric guitars.

Nobody seems to be able to decide if The Bad Plus is rock-influenced jazz or vice versa. Eventually, nobody cares. A Steinway grand piano is hauled on stage and rapidly tuned. Dignified, classy Wisconsinite pianist Ethan Iverson, looking mysteriously like a well-dressed Anton LaVay, sans beard, keeps it too legit to quit by introducing each song as a “piece” and explaining who wrote what. Accompaniment provided courtesy of Hometown drummer Dave King, of 12 Rods and Happy Apple legend, and local upright bassist Reid Anderson. Interconnected like Voltron parts, they rearrange the jazz template into a Modeski, Martin, & Wood-type hipster vibe. The recipe goes something like this: one part egocentric personality, two parts friendly instrument competition. Serves one awestruck, dumbfounded and semi-intoxicated sell-out crowd. Even John Cage anecdotes receive thunderous applause here with these hep cats.

A dirty hippie with the second- most obnoxious mustache in the world attempts to show everyone why he still needs to purchase some more dance lessons. Bored security guards munch on cold pizza. Road- tripping Iowans, complete with custom puffy-painted outfits, explain Wilco is taking a break from their current tour with Sonic Youth. Elusive lead singer Jeff Tweedy reportedly was also spotted at a Beck show in Chicago. How can this be? Tension and apprehension mounts to inhumanly high levels. A hush is felt; the mob is contained.

Wilco live is like a fixer-upper house you have to see the inside of to truly appreciate. They offer sobering social critiques minus Thom Yorke-esque whining. The band does not seem awkward, despite that they are supporting an album for which many of the songs were co-written by a now-forsaken ex-member. A quiet, albeit drunken mass is held as the sun sets gently behind the gigantic stage. Someone inexplicably yells: “I love your faded denim jacket.” Tweedy’s sunken, leathery cheekbones unfortunately have left his face a cross between Johnny Cash and a space alien. Practically every moog solo gets an ovation. Tweedy’s voice meanders from polished and raspy, juxtaposing muttering and screaming, to startling effect. “Heavy Metal Drummer” rocks the house, Tweedy’s disposition that of a charming campanero strumming on the street corner. The group acts surprisingly jubilant, all good-time smiles considering the somber, bitter lyrics. Their latest, an internet-only EP entitled “More like the Moon,” is featured tonight, but everything feels like mean-spirited teasing until they get back to the old stuff.

The gargantuan, titanic zenith, its denouement if you will, is reached with “War on War.” The line about having to die in order to learn how to live is chanted nonstop, metamorphosing instantly into our new mantra. For a brief minute, all of us forget for a moment that there is still a real blood-and-guts war being fought outside our Edward Scissorhands-style green space.

Nathan Hall welcomes comments at [email protected]