The Val Air Ballroom, Des Moines, Iowa
Touring to support no album can be a great thing for fans; a band has no obligations to anyone except themselves and the people that pay money to see/hear them. Combine this with the last show of a tour and you can expect even better things; a band may throw everything at the crowd because, what the fuck, it’s the last show.
Wilco has their road crew pick out the set list for the final show of every tour, and if there’s any consistency among roadies, hopes were high that they’d come up with a rocking set. They did. The set at the Val-Air Ballroom was littered with loads of stuff from “Being There,” “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot,” “A Ghost Is Born” a new one and a nice surprise (more on that later).
The Val Air Ballroom was a venue that I’d never been to before, but the retro vibe makes me want to check out a few more shows there again. Check out what greeted us as we approached:
How fucking bad ass is that? It’s a ballroom in every sense of the word and I’m sure a few rugs were cut on the hardwood floor during its heyday.
Opening with a stellar “Handshake Drugs,” Tweedy and Co. looked as haggard as ever, sporting the obligatory boycott of the new Gillette razor and a few new faces in the lineup that I didn’t notice when I saw them last (the tour before “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” was released).
Whereas that show truly seemed like a band effort, this Wilco seemed like Tweedy’s baby; he’s filled the band with very capable musicians who can appropriate his vision without challenging it. So far, it’s working. “A Ghost Is Born” probably wouldn’t have been made with Jay Bennett, and truth be told, I don’t think I’d like a show filled with Bennett’s request for “easy rockers.”
Jay’s exit has led to guitarist Nels Cline’s arrival. This guy can flat out play, whether its tearing up the Jazzmaster ala Robert Quine or settling back with a lap steel, Cline’s only downfall was making a few accidental noises during a soft take on “The Lonely 1,” a song that typically only features Tweedy with an acoustic. The glitch prompted a smile from Jeff and a few lighthearted laughs from the understanding crowd.
Speaking of: the audience was unlike any I had seen before. It was a mixture of general admission drunks, middle-aged hipsters, and even a few grey-haired boomers who didn’t seem too thrilled with some of the evening’s feedback laden landscapes.
The one song that everyone seemed to agree on was the final selection, a note-perfect rendition of Blue Oyster Cult’s “Don’t Fear The Reaper.” Featuring the drum tech on cowbell, the band channeled the facsimile with precision and with the carefree attitude of a group on the last show of a tour and with nothing to really promote.
I Am Trying to Break Your Heart
Forget the Flowers
At Least That's What You Said
On And On And On (the new one)
Shot in the Arm
The Lonely 1
I'm the man who loves you
I'm a Wheel
Far, Far Away
Magazine Called Sunset
The Late Greats
Red Eyed & Blue
I Got You
Don't Fear The Reaper