I could trace my entire adult life around Wilco albums. And seeing them on Thursday—my first big show in Denver, which I attended with my no longer new Denver friends—was like seeing an old pal.
(Sadly, it was like seeing an old pal for a quick coffee. There was some catching up on the new material, but not enough time to reminisce on all the old memories, that is, all of Wilco’s b-sides from 15 years ago.)
The show reminded me not just of the times when the lyrics of “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” limned the emotional landscape of my sophomore year of college or when my friend and I memorized the phonetic alphabet in the album’s honor our junior year, but also of seeing Oscar Robertson play basketball in an old timers game. Like watching the Big O thirty or so years after his prime, Wilco did not have the speed of their younger days, but still had an undeniable grace.
In chapter 1 of “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running,” my perennial desk side reading, Haruki Murakami asks “Who’s going to laugh at Mick Jagger?” This is in response to a silly thing a younger Mick Jagger said about singing “Satisfaction” at 45. That is, he’d rather be dead than be doing it. Of course now, Mick Jagger is over 45, still playing “Satisfaction,” and is not dead. Murakami’s point is that we all turn 45 or die, and who’s to laugh at a younger man for thinking he’d prefer the latter fate.
And while I wouldn’t laugh at Mick Jagger, Wilco is not still playing “Jesus, Etc.” at 45. That song, probably their most famous, was missing from Thursday’s set. Instead, what got most people to their feet was “Dawned on Me,” a song not about trying to get laid, but about being reminded of how much you love someone, and making a call to let that someone know about it. The new Wilco album isn’t about love lost, love poorly treated or love hard to achieve. Instead, “The Whole Love” is a record about the slow drama of maintaining love over a lifetime. That is, the kind of music a dad could rock out to.