is in the tape deck on my way home, and I am again reminded why I love seeing this band live. It's for all the minute details you can visualize when you're driving
, those scenes from a show, a little flickering of a movie being projected in your head. The small instruments you can hold in your hand. Tambourine
. Maracas. Harmonica. The crash of horns draping Jeff Tweedy
like a golden cape. The creak of his voice, as though he knows its broke and doesn't care to fix it. And the lilt of the pipe organ, sauntering in like a striptease that started fifteen minutes late.
I remember a my friend Zack, standing by an old wooden ladder propped in a corner that was draped in purple Christmas tree lights by his wife, a ladder used to hold his CD's. Via Chicago was playing, and he was stopping some debate spinning out in the living room so I would listen. His hands played air guitar. You hear that, he asked, white elbows lifting and falling. The song had just come crashing around itself in a fit of disorder. An electric guitar chimed in and quivered, then pranced in and out of focus. Here it comes, he said. Then the drum beat brought everything back into order. Listen to how it all came back together.
It was like that watching Wilco on stage. They looked at one another in the face between songs, between swigs of beer and cigarettes, between each stomp of applause. They laughed with one another like a gang out for football night at a bar, reeling from hijinks near the pool table.
My first show was right after Mermaid Avenue had come out, when Wilco was playing someone else's songs. Slow songs, sad songs, nonsense songs for children like Hoodoo Voodoo. Me and my little gang were bounding up and down in place, mouthing the words with full-blown mania, as though my annunciating with our open mouths that we were a part of the song. Tweedy crooned his second encore, his navy blue dress shirt glued to his torso with sweat.
I've loved so many people
Everywhere I went
Some too much, others not enough
So when you think of me, if and when you do
Just say, "Well another man's done gone."
We came back to Zack and Angie's place, loosed lipped and smiling like drunk pigs. We crashed on scattered futons and whispered like a sleepover. The following morning I was convinced to call in sick so we could be there when Thrift City opened up for it's monthly 3rd Thursday half-off sale. It was odd to be walking the streets in daylight on a weekday, rattled with slight sleep and wide eyed. It was almost like being alive.
A year and more later, I was storing two tickets to see Wilco at the Howlin' Wolf in my jewelry box a month in advance. And I had a date. It was hot in there, and April, and this time, Zack and Angie were there but weren't talking to me. We peered over the crowd that was crammed against the railing on the second floor, trying to see the opening band. We crunched on ice, trying to steer from the cigarette smoke and baudy flirtation that was ensuing around us between a short girl who was perched against a column and a tallish hippie from Arizona.
All the items in my pockets are already pressing themselves into my warm skin. His brow is lit up with sweat, and it wasn't yet 11. We escape and walk to block to return his unneeded second layer of shirt to my Festiva. We watch sound check for an eternity, the pudgy, pasty men lurching around grabbing cords and instruments with feigned urgency. Tap, jostle, tug, slap, duct tape it down. Guitars like shrapnel. And they appear.
I couldn't tell you what they played, but it sounded like the entire Summerteeth album, give or take some gems from A.M. and Being There. There was a jockeying for the john, the line of women all in tight half slip skirts, slide shoes, superfluous purses, and tight shirts in an array of tropical pinks and blues. There were 2 encores, and we were on the floor by the bar. A couple nearby was having about as much fun as we were, their smiles genuine and unrelenting through the haze of smoke, the cloud of cologne. I caught slips of Tweedy's sullen sneer through heads, and it was enough. The slip of a bassist hopping around like a string bean, the dreadlocked guitarist in a dress jacket, swinging from side to side.
Brush my hair. Kissle me some more.
Every song was an anthem, a celebration. Any slow song caught in between was there to let you pause for a moment in a moment that would not really ever stop. Our cheerleaders were pale faced with small beer guts and halfway grins; they fed off of us without really even seeing us, and we fed off their fusion. We were all young in the floodlights, stripped penniless in the crescendo of feedback and cymbals, settling to the ground like confetti. Even after they stopped and walked off the third and final time, the rest of us were still recuperating from our sway, our feet falling heavy to the floor. His hand around my waist held me like a cello that had exhaled a triumphant final note. If there had been a curtain, it would have been ripped apart while it was dropped.
Slowly, we ambled through the door and out into the sodium lights, our ears craning for the new silence of our little voices, newly found. We eased into our seats and crept back into walls and doors.
And again, I felt very much alive.