"So, are you guys actually from here?" Wilco's Jeff Tweedy asked of the 10,000 or so who made the trek to Coney Island last night to see his band and Yo La Tengo play Keyspan Park, home of the minor league Brooklyn Cyclones. "What are you, a bunch of circus freaks?"
(Strangely, Tweedy made no reference to Wilco and Billy Bragg's 1995 Woody Guthrie tribute, Mermaid Avenue.)
I think he meant sideshow freaks, but no matter: we were all just happy to be sitting in the cool seabreeze on a clear summer night, watching a pair of veteran bands put on a solid show for their fans. At first, I was cursing the Ticketmaster gods that stuck me in the G.A. seated section rather than on the field, but as the sun went down and the neon lights grew brighter, the panorama took on a magical glow and I forgot all about the distant, tinny sound.
I got there towards the end of Yo La Tengo's noise-driven set, with Ira Kaplan throwing his guitar around like a slingshot. It was pretty much the same vibe as their set that closed McCarren Pool last summer, save the stage this time was in the middle of a baseball outfield. I kept thinking that someone might step up to the plate and knock one straight over the amp stacks.
Wilco took the stage around 8:30, to the theme music from "The Price Is Right." (Note to younger bands: don't take yourselves too seriously.) On the surface, there's nothing special about Wilco's music: it's friendly, straight-up rock, a blend of Van Morrison, Dylan and the Dead. Sure, Twedy is a talented songwriter, and his high register voice is soothing and distinctive. But, this isn't the sort of music that'll shake your tree.
What takes it to another level is Nels Cline's unholy noise: his battery of guitars and noise pedals created piercing shrieks and wails that sounded more like something you might hear at Issue Project Room than at a mainstream rock show. (Prior to joining Wilco in 2004, Cline had a long and distinguished career as an improviser, which continues whenever he's not touring the globe.) Just goes to show: the most successful entertainment has something for everyone.
(P.S. Brooklyn Vegan reports that during the encore, Tweedy did in fact make reference to Mermaid Avenue, bringing Feist and Grizzly Bear's Edward Droste onstage for a cover of Woody Guthrie's "California Stars" and "Hoodoo Voodoo." Guess that's what I get trying to beat the mad rush to the F train.)