In this series Fugitive Sounds editor Cameron Howell posts selected stubs from his cache of concert tickets, along with his memories of the shows—a “little exercise” that he says “is as much about memory and explaining memories as it is about music or concerts.” Check back at noon each Thursday for the latest installment.
9:30 Club (Washington, DC)
October 14, 2002
It’s been 14 years since this concert—one of the best musical performances by any band or artist that I have ever witnessed.
You know the story of Wilco and 2001’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Documented in the film I Am Trying to Break Your Heart and in countless press summaries of the band’s career, the story is easy to dismiss as hype or convenient hindsight or mere fact.
What’s lost in the story is how genuinely strange and exciting Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was. I listened to it for the first time through the tinny speakers of my laptop, through a dial-up connection to the Wilco website, which was broadcasting Yankee Hotel Foxtrot for free. The songs were spare and intimate and weird. This was not the Wilco that I knew.
I had not seen the band live since 1997. The scrappy Wilco of 1997 was no more, having jettisoned Ken Coomer and Jay Bennett, becoming contemplative but still convincing. Below is the night’s setlist:
I Am Trying to Break Your Heart
War on War
A Shot in the Arm
Ashes of American Flags
Someone Else’s Song
Heavy Metal Drummer
I’m the Man Who Loves You
Red-Eyed and Blue
I Got You (At the End of the Century)
I’m Always in Love
Not for the Season
Less Than You Think
Outta Mind (Outta Sight)
The setlist is and was a marvel. Imagine Wilco, having defined its own terms for critical and commercial triumph, arriving in a major city and playing to a crowd that surely contained many new converted fans, beginning a concert with an unrecorded and unreleased song. “Spiders (Kidsmoke)” would become a live favorite after its release on 2004’s A Ghost Is Born. From 2004 onward, the song would soar on groove and muscle and the virtuosity of Nels Cline on guitar. In 2001, the song was quiet and then spastic, almost bipolar.
Then the concert gave way to careful attention to the standout tracks of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, along with earlier favorites. “Reservations” was plaintive, as was “Not for the Season” (sometimes known, in its Loose Fur incarnation, as “Laminated Cat”), another unreleased tune. And the band played yet another unreleased song, “Less Than You Think” before the encore’s final two barn-burners.
Jeff Tweedy and Leroy Bach played beautiful, vintage Epiphone guitars. Glenn Kotche’s skill and dexterity were startling as be simultaneously drummed and played precise notes on the xylophone during “Kamera.”
My girlfriend, soon to be my wife, watched the show with me from the railing of the balcony of the 9:30 Club, grateful and transfixed.
On the drive home, traffic was at a standstill on Interstate 66 just outside the District. Helicopters flew overhead, shining spotlights into the traffic and onto the sides of the interstate. Blue lights flashed above the road ahead. Law-enforcement officers carrying machine guns walked between the lanes of halted traffic. This was not an automobile accident.
I found local news on the radio. The DC Sniper had shot someone at a nearby Home Depot, while Wilco played at the 9:30 Club. Newscasters advised drivers on Interstate 66 to turn on the interior lights of their vehicles, so that law-enforcement agents could see clearly inside. Newscasters advised further that drivers should keep their hands clearly visible atop steering wheels.