Wilco and Nick Lowe in Toronto – A Review

September 17, 2011 at 8:09 pm (Uncategorized)

Massey Hall is in the middle.  At capacity it holds a little over 2, 700 people. It’s too large to really create the ambience and intimacy of a club show, but it’s still small enough to avoid the agoraphobia of an  impersonal stadium show. And so it was, I went to see Wilco and Nick Lowe at Massey Hall on the second date of their tour to support the release of Wilco’s new album The Whole Love

I was pretty excited about seeing Nick Lowe. I’d listened to him in the late 70s, and once saw him play in Hamilton in the mid 1980s (k.d. lang and the reclines was the opening act), and it’s hard not to have a soft spot for someone who named his first album The Jesus of Cool.

Nick Lowe has been in the music business for over 40 years, starting as a pub-rocker with Brinsley Schwartz in Kipplington Lodge in the late 1960s. In the punk years, Lowe produced bands like the Damned and Elvis Costello, wrote songs with Doctor Feelgood, and was a cheeky new wave solo performer  and part of Rockpile with Dave Edmunds. In addition to a continuing solo career, Lowe was later a part of Little Village with Ry Cooder, John Hiatt  and Jim Keltner.

Lowe took the stage at 7:40 accompanied only with an acoustic guitar, and forget what I said about intimacy, Lowe created an instant rapport with the audience; silver-haired, tall and thin at 62, Lowe was a gracious entertainer, who seemed just to be glad to have the opportunity to play for us: A class act.   

Over the course of his 40-minute set, he took us through the stages of his career: “Cruel to be Kind” (from Labour of Lust), “Raging Eyes” (from The Abominable Showman), (“When I Write the Book” (from Seconds of Pleasure and a breath-takingly beautiful version of  Elvis Costello’s Alison. Lowe concluded his set with the song which he wrote when in Brinsley Schwartz and which made him rich when it appeared on the soundtrack to The Bodyguard, “(What’s so Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding, ” (sorry Nick, gotta go with Elvis’ version over the Brinsley Schwartz one). 

Here’s a video of Lowe performing “Lately I’ve Let Things Slide” (a song he played last night) from 2001’s The Convincer to give you a sense of the show. 

Wilco are a band who were on my radar for a long time. I bought their first four albums, and then somehow lost interest. I saw them play in Calgary in 1996 supporting Being There, and they were amazing. It was one of those shows where the audience and the band feed off of each other’s energy, and the show just builds to a frenzy. I wasn’t expecting that at Massey Hall, but I was pretty sure things would be good.

Except that they weren’t.

The band took the stage and began with some electronica-sounding keyboard noodling, while the rest of the band played some jam sounds and Jeff Tweedy kind of danced on his own. Ohh. And for about 45 minutes, they struggled to find their groove.

Tweedy said not a word to the appreciative audience (so not everyone shared my view), but they continued to work through their set. The songs however, were often interrupted by discordant noise. Twice during “Via Chicago”, the band exploded into blasts of noise, but Tweedy didn’t pause he just continued with the song. At this point, I began to be very concerned.

And then it happened. Halfway though “She’s a Jar,” Tweedy forgot the words. He stopped, started again, stumbled again. He laughed, the audience laughed, and Wilco bonded with us.  And for the remaining 45 minutes, they played amazing rock and roll, albeit with occasional overly long jams.

After a 90-minute set, Tweedy and the band returned to play an encore of songs drawn mostly from their masterpiece Being There. And then it was over. A good show, possibly great, if you can overlook the first half of the show.

Here’s Wilco’s cover of Nick Lowe’s “I Love My Label.”



  1. Jeff Brinkert said,

    You should know that ‘Via Chicago’ is supposed to be an instrumental crescendo while the singer and bassist keep going and that the song has
    been that way from it’s creation. You Fucking, stupid Wanker!

    You have no business being a music critic if you don’t know the music or Wilco for that matter you incompetent piece of Shit!

    • fischerzed said,

      Never claimed to be a music critic. I guess I’ll take the high ground here and not reply in kind, except to say, are you really unable to disagree with me without childish insults?

      I don’t think it worked on Friday (can’t say about Saturday -wasn’t there), and disrupted the song.

      I also don’t think you can argue that the band was much more relaxed in the second part of the set (essentially from She’s a Jar on), and that the audience responded to that.

      • fischerzed said,

        One more thing about Via Chicago, Jeff argues it “is supposed to be an instrumental crescendo while the singer and bassist keep going and that the song has been that way from it’s creation.”

        I can’t speak to other live performances since this was the first time I’ve seen it performed live, but it’s certainly not true for the version which appears on Summerteeth. There, the music does rise at the end of the song, not twice during the song, nor does it obscure Tweedy’s vocals. And for what it’s worth, it works really well.

  2. flower said,

    I would argue that it wasn’t so much of Wilco not finding their groove until 45 minutes in, but rather that they were playing more of their newer material first and you weren’t familiar with it and/or didn’t like it as much as their older stuff.

    • fischerzed said,

      Fair enough.

  3. Slfn said,

    This must be a review of first night…

    • fischerzed said,

      It was.

  4. Social Media Run Wild | Notes from Underground said,

    […] quiet. The only hostile posts have been about music reviews I’ve written, one about Wilco, another Steve Ignorant.  Both were seemingly written in rage-fueled haste and laden with childish […]

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