On his records, Bird can sound detached, his lyrics distant in their arch intellectuality. Peter Margasak calls him "too clever by half," and the indie wizard can sound impressive but unapproachable. Onstage, though, human warmth shines through and his quirkiness is entirely charming.
His first song was "Dark Matter," a wink in the direction of the nearby Fermilab (this is the first concert where I've heard drunken shouts of "Higgs boson!" from the audience). Under a cloudless blue sky, he smiled widely, whistled soulfully, and made the giant stadium feel small and intimate.
It's also easier to appreciate the incredible range of his talents live. You come in already knowing that he's classically trained in violin and can play more instruments at one time than the chimney sweep in Mary Poppins, but it's more impressive to actually see him with a guitar in one hand, a violin in the other, and a glockenspiel to his side. He can juggle genres just as easily as instruments, plucking like a country fiddler at one point and then looping screeches into his spinning Liederhorn (that's a speaker, by the way, not a magical creature.) And the man, I must say, plays a gorgeous violin.
Wilco then arrived and, this being Wilco's town, they made the stadium feel very, very big.
A highlight of the night was Nels Cline's extended solo on "Impossible Germany": he went from exploring a bluesy, rolling, bittersweet landscape to blazing explosively across the strings, keeping perfect control the whole time. Most of the songs were just as electric—the last time a Chicago crowd got this charged up was probably at an Obama rally. But there was also a soft and completely unexpected acoustic rendering of "Spiders," a live-show staple that usually takes its influences from psychedelic and experimental Krautrock.
With Woody Guthrie's 100th birthday less than a week away, for the second encore Wilco broke out "California Stars," with Mr. Bird playing sweetly on the violin. Nels Cline and Pat Sansone drew their weapons for an epic guitar duel on "Hoodoo Voodoo," while in the background a roadie with a striking resemblance to Frank Zappa broke out a cowbell. Fireworks erupted over the stadium after the final bow.
Perfect weather, fireworks, cowbells—this is why summer is the best season, heat waves be damned.
Here are a few songs they played at the show—though unfortunately none of the footage is from last night.