In the late-‘90s I was living in Denver, immersed in young-family life. We were friendly with many of our neighbors, our kids played basketball in the alley, and there was a lot of going in-and-out of each others’ homes. Once while tracking an errant child in one of the grand old Victorians facing Observatory Park, I remember seeing lots of well-preserved rock n’ roll memorabilia, including a framed concert poster for the band Wilco. Wilco was this neighbor’s favorite group and at any given chance he would go into passionate soliloquies about them, likely more for himself than any baby-spittled neighbor mom like me who happened to be around. I was intrigued by his fervor, but also confused upon actually hearing the band. I didn’t get what he was saying. I heard a competent but sort of dull alt-country-rock band, not anything to jump up and down about, and nothing that would make me delve further into Wilco’s catalog. I left them sit as sort of an odd duck, thinking them over-hyped and not my thing.

Fast forward 10+ years. I live near Seattle, don’t know any neighbors, and I still somehow have young kids. In the last few years as I have wiped away the last of the baby spit, Wilco has crept up on me. It’s like every so often they’d turn up on my porch with an apple pie, or a strange mechanical toy, or a hula hoop, a glass of whiskey with fingerprints on it, a ticket to the top of the Sears Tower, or a flat-top guitar from the ‘30s. I’d take the metaphorical gifts, wonder what on earth it was all about, then slowly smile. If you are a fan of the band, you know what I mean: Wilco has become an incredibly diverse, confident, interesting, odd, and wonderful musical entity. They are the most American of bands, in the best of ways, able to reach way deep down into folk, country, and experimental jazz roots while grabbing the sparkle of power-pop bands like Big Star, the laid-back ease of the Allmans or the Byrds, the literary depth and emotion of Dylan and Cohen, and the sheer power and intensity of the sound of a steel factory explosion. You could make fifty different comparisons and they all might be right. Any given song at a Wilco concert can be completely unlike the last. It’s hard to think of any other band who could pull this off, but Wilco does. I get it now, Former Neighbor, I get it now.

It was with great excitement then that I attended the Wilco show at Seattle’s Paramount Theater last night, with the extra perk of having a front-row balcony seat. I missed opening act Califone due to a late dinner (mmm…Sushi Maru), but there were lots of the mainly-40-something crowd arriving late-ish as well. The band soon strode out on the stage to the amusing strains of “The Price Is Right” TV show theme, and banged right into one of my favorites from their current album and a perfect entry song, “Wilco (The Song)” complete with a computer-voiced introduction of band members Jeff Tweedy, John Stirratt, Nels Cline, Glenn Kotche , Pat Sansone, and Mikael Jorgensen.

Beautiful. Honestly, that’s the word that kept going through my mind during Wilco’s two-hour set. I love the gorgeous purity of Jeff Tweedy’s voice, the fearless way the band takes on the material, how well each band member brings out the best in each other, the humor and the darkness of the lyrics perfectly, humanly, intertwined. Those are some pretty big words, I know. I’m going to top that by saying in my not-at-all-humble opinion, “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart” (from 2002’s album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot) is one of the best songs ever written and performed, from any time or genre.

Wilco loves you, and the audience loves Wilco, something completely sweetly obvious in this audience-sung version of “Jesus, etc.”

There were times in the show where, because of the diversity of the material, I felt a lag, especially on the slower and more Dead-like tunes. But for someone else in the audience, well, that’s their favorite Wilco stuff, so it’s all good. I certainly was never bored, and that’s a big deal for me. Guitarist Nels Cline in particular was on fire all night, like he had just walked in fresh off of CBGB’s in 1977 or something. He was so manic (which I LOVE) and I wondered how he didn’t completely wear his hands down to bloody stumps. How many bands who have been playing as long have that kind of energy? This was another very appealing thing about seeing Wilco – you really get the sense that they love to play, and that they’d play just as happily for a backyard barbeque as the sold-out grand old Paramount Theater. Also notable was Jeff Tweedy's ability to play an entire guitar solo while balancing on one leg.

As time was growing close to the “gerroff the stage” time of 11PM, the band encored with a very cool version of Buffalo Springfield’s “Broken Arrow,” all full of twists and turns. A little later, locals Scott McCaughey (Young Fresh Fellows, the Minus Five) and jazz guitarist Bill Frisell joined the band for “California Stars,” another one of my favorites. I know Scott McCaughey has worked with Wilco before, but damn, this guy gets onstage with EVERYONE! Scott, I am doing an acapella version of the Kinks’ “Picture Book” in my laundry room this week – you’re welcome to join in. Have your people call my people, and bring some Tide. My apologies for the incomplete clip of this – my camera read “MEMORY CARD FULL” about three minutes in. Oh, well, at least I had the presence of mind not to swear loudly.

The show ended with the fun “Hoodoo Voodoo,” with Cline and Sansone in an epic guitar god battle which was both hilarious and quite musically awesome as well. You had the feeling the band could have easily kept playing for another hour, and charmingly, would have liked to. Wilco walks so many lines so well. They deserve their increasing success and all the critical kudos, and you have the feeling that they have a lot more surprises up their sleeves.

So many wars that just can't be won, oh, oh, oh
Even before the battle's begun, oh, oh, oh
This is all of our arms open wide
Sonic shoulder for you to cry- I-I-I-I

Wilco, Wilco will love you, baby.

Love you too, Wilco.