I have called Wichita, Kansas home for about 5 years now. Despite the constant ribbing I receive from my friends in Chicago and Washington D.C., Wichita is a great place to call home. There is no traffic, the housing market is ridiculously affordable, and it has it's share of rare book treasures for me to hunt down. The biggest drawback for me is the lack of good bands that come through town. While I am too much of a music snob to have given the local indie scene a chance yet, I have not been that excited for any concert since moving to town. The Rolling Stones came through last week, but I wasn't about to pay $75 to see them in 2006. I might have in 1976 or 1986.
When I heard through the grapevine that Wilco was coming to Wichita, I was ecstatic. This was by far the best musical news I had received in the last 5 years. I proceeded to tell every Starbucks barista, checkout counter encounter, and random acquaintance about their upcoming October 15th appearance, and am sure that I sold at least 30 of the approximately 1200 $25 tickets they sold. In any major city, Wilco would probably sell out a 3000 seat venue, but in Wichita, the crowd seemed surprisingly sparse. Even Jeff Tweedy remarked on it's small size.
I didn't mind, because me and my friends got a spot right up front, about eight feet from electric guitar virtuoso Nels Cline. They opened the show with "Airline to Heaven", which I am proud to say that I predicted, and I would assume was an homage to Wichita being the Air Capital, though I could be overanalyzing, as I like to do with many of Tweedy's lyrics. They followed with I Am Trying to Break Your Heart, and then three rockers from a Ghost is Born, the best of which was Handshake Drugs, and then unveiled a new song called Impossible Germany. I was skeptical at first, but it won me over about halfway through. As promised in the paper, they mixed it up by playing songs from all their albums, and continued to do some of the best material from Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and "Shot in the Arm" from Summerteeth. "Jesus etc." was the highlight of this string. Tweedy had not talked to the audience until just before this one, and admitted to checking in with the crowd later than usual. He then proceeded to tell us he was comfortable with us now, and asked everyone too sing along. I did, much to the dismay of the people in front of me. I couldn't help it.
He also mentioned that they don't come to Wichita often, and part of the reason had to do with Kansas' reputation for having more than their share of bigots. Apparently, someone on the street called them "faggots". He jokingly admitted that they were chilling outside of an antique store drinking cafe lattes. The crowd got a kick out of that. Then the dude behind me yelled "Come Back!", to which Jeff responded by leaving the stage temporarily, and then returning with "It's Great to be Back in Wichita!" to the delightful roar of the audience. This banter provided a pleasant and spontaneous comic interlude to the set.
The highlight of the show for me was hearing one of the new songs called "Walken" which definitely had an old-school, almost A.M. feel to it, a little more rockin/blues/funk/soul if I remember correctly. The first part of the show closed with Misunderstood, which I regrettingly missed most of on a drink run. What followed was a double encore, with four and then three songs played in each break. The first encore was Hummingbird, Heavy Metal Drummer, California, and Late Greats, which really got me into a frenzied, jumping up and down, white-boy dance routine. The second encore consisted of Let's Not Get Carried away (new song), Kingpin, and I'm a Wheel. While ending it with Late Greats would have been fine by me, I could not have been happier at the end of the frantic, nonsensical I'm a Wheel. In my opinion, the show lived up to all the hype I had sold to everyone and even myself.
The final part of the mission for the night was to become the official book supplier of the Wilco tour bus. I had randomly run into the tour bus driver on Saturday afternoon, and brought along a few Spanish Language CD's I had promised to him. The truth is, I am a Wilco groupie and I thought this would be my backstage pass. While waiting outside to meet Nels and Jeff, I realized how ridiculous it was to be a groupie of a band that is this down to earth, and seemingly humble. I just couldn't help it. So I got a quick photo opp, during which time I nearly choked Mr. Tweedy in my over-excited state. I then handed him my business card with a $1 cash tip for putting on such a great show, and hoping that he wouldn't forget to take me up on my offer of free books for the Wilco tour bus. Lord knows I'll never forget the night Wilco came to Wichita.