The last time I was in Chicago was April 2002, two weeks before Yankee Hotel Foxtrot came out (for real). Around sunset on Sunday night, Wilco played at Lollapalooza in Grant Park. I have a bootleg of their July 4, 2001 show in Grant Park (the last one Jay Bennett played). It's not very good - you can feel the tension in the songs. But seeing Wilco in Chicago has been on my list of things to do before dying for a long time. I've seen Wilco a bunch of times, and this show was by far the best, and I don't think it was just because it was in Chicago and I expected it to be good. The band was relaxed and seemed genuinely glad to be there.
The crowd was completely into it, which definitely contributed to the atmosphere. They opened with the ever-popular "Shot in the Arm," and played through lots of favorites, mostly from YHF and A Ghost is Born. "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart" was the third song, which was pretty cool to listen to with the skyline in the background and thinking about the beginning of the movie. Jeff Tweedy told us that they're currently in the studio, and the band played four new songs to give us a taste of what's to come. And wow. I'd only heard one of the songs, but they've been playing "Walken/Talking to Myself About You" for about six months now. It was better live. "What Light/There's a Light" was okay. "Impossible Germany" is fantastic and "Let's Fight" is amazing. They've only played "Let's Fight" a couple of times live, so it was pretty cool to get to hear that.
Tweedy was in pretty rare form as well. He came out wearing a goofy hat, led the crowd in clapping, and seemed to actually be having a good time. They closed with "Hummingbird" and he was actually dancing all over the stage.
But my favorite part of the fourteen-song set came about halfway through when they played "Via Chicago." I've always loved that song, maybe because it's about knowing deep down that home is a who more than a where. I don't know what it was, if it was the fact that they were singing that song in Chicago, or that everyone was singing along, or that it seemed like they really meant it. But there was something about those seconds that made me happy to be alive.
How did I end up in this place, for this moment? Because one night years ago, The Diplomat said, "You've gotta read this book called North Toward Home and you've gotta hear this album called Being There." So I did, and he was right, and both of those things changed my life. It's so cliched to say that about a Wilco album, but you have to understand that that was the first time I'd heard nonlinear lyrics get to the heart of what songwriting is supposed to do, which is give the players and the listeners a sense of knowing what it's like to be there. It was the first time I'd heard chords and rhythms and noisy feedback come together in a way that didn't always sound 100% pretty, but that made me understand that all of those things together meant something. And so Wilco became part of my soundtrack. The music went with me, to Connecticut and Washington and Austin and Italy and Japan and Congo, and it's explained how I've felt through big decisions, stupid boys, doubt and fear and love. A friend played me one of their songs one night a couple of years ago and said, the thing is, this song is about this one thing, but it's not really, because there's something about it that gets beyond the temporal, and it's transcendent.
And that's why Sunday night's rendition of "Via Chicago," was, for me, maybe one of the best concert moments I'll ever have. I want to remember it. I want to remember what the sun setting behind the skyscrapers looked like, and how the breeze off the lake was so cool and calm. I want to remember, for the rest of my life, what it felt like to be standing under the Chicago sky, listening to my favorite band sing a song that is a part of me, and feeling what the words and the melody and the dissonance mean, in a way I can't put words to. I want to remember that moment, because it was transcendent.