Wilco at Ommegang
I’ve never been to Ommegang Brewery in Cooperstown before, but I’m happy that they’re hosting concerts, because it gave me a good excuse to visit. I headed out there on Saturday for the Wilco concert, and by the time we located the overflow parking lot, took the shuttle to the concert grounds and made our way into the venue, I was ready for a beer. Good thing I was at a brewery!
There are advantages and disadvantages to holding a concert in an out-of-the-way place. Getting there can be a bit of a chore, and once you’re there, you’re there — you can’t just run out and grab some food downtown, because that would require getting a shuttle, retrieving your car and driving 15 minutes. But the seclusion of such places can create a magical and unique experience, especially if the area is pretty. Brewery Ommegang is a little bit like Saratoga Performing Arts Center, but much smaller, with a sloping hillside and a nice view of the countryside and nearby farms. (The stage overlooked a silo.) Once I got in there, found a place to stand, grabbed some food and a beer, I was able to relax and just enjoy my surroundings. One of the nice features of going to a brewery concert is that all of the beer is basically brewed on site, so even though you’re paying $6 for a beer, it’s not like you’re drinking Budweiser or Rolling Rock.
Prior to this show, I’d seen Wilco four times, as well as Jeff Tweedy’s solo show at The Egg, and I pretty much knew what to expect. Wilco is a terrific live act — Tweedy is a very charming frontman, and the band is comprised of top-notch musicians who transform Wilco’s already splendid songs into something bordering on transcendent. Because I’ve seen Wilco a bunch of times, I wasn’t that excited about this show, but the band instantly won me over, seguing from “Dawned On Me,” off their new album, “The Whole Love,” to “War on War,” off their 2002 masterwork “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.” One of the best things about the concert was how much the band delved into its back catalog — to my delight, the show featured a number of songs off 1996’s “Being There.”
For a band that got its start as an alt-country group, Wilco has become a fairly adventurous rock band, experimenting with sound, texture and songwriting — songs such as “Hummingbirds,” for instance, are downright strange, both lyrically and musically. In addition, they put on a rollicking concert, turning songs such as “Handshake Drugs” and “I’m the Man Who Loves You” into high-energy sing-alongs. The show’s highlight was probably a stirring version of “Impossible Germany,” which might just be the band’s best song. As usual, the show was generous — about two hours, with two encores, and a mix of both older and newer material.
Toward the end of the show, Tweedy heaped his praise upon the audience, saying that we were “pretty much anything you could want in an audience.” My guess is that he says that to all of his audiences, but maybe not: As venues go, there was something special about Ommegang, with its mellow, rural vibe, starry skies and remote location. The show was followed by fireworks, which reinforced the specialness of the whole evening. I’ve now seen Wilco five times, and they were so good, I’ll probably just keep going to see them anytime they’re anywhere near me. They’re tied with the Mighty Mighty Bosstones for “band I’ve seen the most in concert” status, and my guess is that someday they’ll hold the record.
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