I knew about this concert months ago- it was a dream lineup, but the ticket prices were pretty obscene and I decided if it was meant to be, it would happen. Oddly enough, due to a very abrupt change of plans (I actually heard brakes screeching in my head-- that was odd) I found myself in front of MSG on a nasty, precipitous Tuesday night, bargaining down scalpers* with an intoxicated Caroline who had somehow made her way there from a company holiday party (open bar from 3pm-7pm, what kind of sick joke is that?) where she had the misfortune of losing her glasses. We got our tickets for $70 each (1/2 the face value, believe it or not) which is exactly how much I originally was willing to pay to see this show (not including "convenience" fees, so this was actually kind of a bargain) of Wilco opening for Neil frickin' Young.
We walked in during Wilco's first song and the music instantly soothed my soul. I needed something noisy that week and the Gene Ween Band gig at Highline Ballroom had been cancelled. While this was less drunk and less ruckus than the Gener would have been, it was fucking Wilco, so I was psyched (even though it was a total freakin' tease of a set). My friends that had seen the previous night's show had the same complaint- just not enough Wilco. We knew what to expect, but it didn't make it less of a shock to the system. At one point some women came on to help sing Jesus, etc. which was really pretty (we later found out one of them was Norah Jones, very cool!). Jeff Tweedy had the Garden sing Happy Birthday to his son, Spencer. He also announced it was their last night on the tour and thanked Neil Young, the bands, the crew, etc. They rocked for the entire short set and when it had to end we were sad, but everyone got over it cuz Neil Young was up next.
Let me pause here to update Caroline's condition because this was a key role in the night's adventure. She had either napped off or was just closing her eyes (because apparently she is blind without her glasses) for a portion of Wilco's set. Thus began the evolving stages of sobriety: SLEEPY. Then ANGER, "I can't believe I lost my fucking glasses!!!" Next was HUNGER, but possibly only cuz I thought that was a good idea, as in, "you should probably eat something." -> Hot Dog, Popcorn, and the bizarro setting of the MSG hallways during setbreak**. But back to the show INSIDE the arena.
Neil Young is Grandpa Rock n' Roll and when he hit the stage it was clear we were watching a legend. Well, I was watching a legend, Caroline couldn't even see the big screens on either side of the stage. BELLIGERENCE: popcorn was raining down on me for a while there.
Neil Young was wearing a splatter painted sport-coat (because he's Neil Young) and lookin' grizzled***. The stage was set up sort of like a movie or tv set with giant fixed spots facing the band and a staff of unlit letters in a random order hanging in back of them, it was a cool look. Dig it. There was also a ton of unmanned instruments scattered around the stage that band members slowly rotated around to. There was a painter working on a canvas with flourescent paints in back of the drums (he went all set). A giant music-video-type fan was slowly cycling behind the backup singers which was making me laugh for some reason. Totes dramz, Neil. Totes dramz.
He sang some old stuff, a bunch of new stuff. More folksy than loud for the most part, much mellower than I was expecting. There were a lot of songs about cars, but not so much the journey, more about the actual car. I guess when you quit the junk you have to turn your focus elsewhere. Whatever- it was a great fucking show. For the most part it was Neil Young, the legend before us. He was awesome and hell YES I was psyched when he did Heart of Gold and Rockin' In the Free World! Wilco actually came on and stood in as backup singers on Free World before taking a bow with Neil & his band. The painter's end product was some sort of cycloptic-sasquatch creature... Sure, why the fuck not? The random letters above the stage that had finally lit up during Rockin' In the Free World went dark when the bands walked off, except for a scattered N-E-I-L, a pretty cool effect.
Around this time we were in the midst of, PHILISOPHICAL: reminiscing about the Ominous Seapods and what could have been. The "Looking for Answers?****" years. Good times.
They did A Day In The Life as one of the encores which was a great cover and all-- but... God Street Wine's version is waaay better... cuz that one was the bomb-diggity. To sprinkle a little authenticity on it, Neil totally fucked up the first verse and started over, so that's one thing it had in common with GSW's version.
Anyways, Neil Young & Wilco, 12/16/08: 8.25 HUZZAHS! I can cross off Neil's name on my list of artists to see before they die. In the realm of legends of rock who I've had the pleasure of seeing in the past few years, Neil's show was cool, but I definitely enjoyed Eric Clapton (w/ Derek Trucks!) a lot more (even though I had to sit through Tears In Heaven- ugh, gag me*****.). Neil does get points for having Wilco as an opening act. Bruce Springsteen's crowd was a lot more raucous- more drinkers, less smokers, more crowd participation, more Jersey. Not sure which of those two I preferred, but I do know I've gotta see a full length Wilco show very soon, cuz they left me jonesin'.
Wilco (and the crazy fansite that I got this setlist from-- well done, wackos!)
You Are My Face
I Am Trying To Break Your Heart
A Shot In The Arm
Jesus, Etc. (w/ Norah Jones, Catherine Popper and Sasha Dobson on background vocals)
Happy Birthday (crowd sings happy birthday to Spencer Tweedy)
The Late Greats (w/Spencer Tweedy on drums; Glenn played either maracas or a shaker)
Hate It Here
I'm The Man Who Loves You
Neil Young (same setlist the entire tour)
Love And Only Love
Hey Hey, My My
Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere
Cortez The Killer
Oh, Lonesome Me
The Needle And The Damage Done
Light A Candle
Cough Up The Bucks
Hit The Road
Heart Of Gold
Get Back To The Country
Off The Road
When Worlds Collide
Just Singing A Song
Cowgirl In The Sand
Rockin' In The Free World
Get Behind The Wheel
A Day In The Life
* I rarely purchase tickets from scalpers. In fact, in my non-scalper-bid I had found some dude from Alaska with 1 extra, but we needed 2!
** You're not at a sporting event, but you feel like you're at a sporting event
*** Not as grizzled as Clint Eastwood
**** The "Looking for Answers?" Tour was a 1996 Rock the Vote sponsored 4 city show musical marathon fantasy of rotating sets, full band switch-offs, and guest musicians with: Ominous Seapods, moe., Moon Boot Lover, and Yolk. This was truly some sort of North Country traveling musical circus... and for some reason there was a question mark at the end of the name- we still don't know why.
SYRACUSE: moe., Ominous Seapods
***** Yeah, I read the book and I still said it.