Photo by JOSH PELTA-HELLER
The post-global-pandemic resumption of live music events seems like the sort of thing that should be accompanied with some fanfare, some skywritten announcement or proclamation from a town crier. Something. It’s a big deal, and the abrupt shutdown a year-and-a-half ago of nearly everything — including most painfully, for many of us, live music — was a stark reminder never to take for granted the opportunity to attend, participate in and share these collective cultural experiences.
But that’s old news, anyway: just when post-global-pandemic life may have looked back in June as though it were within easy reach, a new more contagious viral strain threatens to make this fall look a little too much like the last, as what bands had been back on the bill for now remain so only tentatively. Authoritative public health guidance feels too dynamic for comfort, regrettably yoked to political considerations. Numbers climb again, and anxieties heighten by the day. As one devastatingly handsome emo rock-and-roll rabbi once put it: the future’s uncertain, and the end is always near.
Okay, so if no one’s in the mood, maybe cancel the fanfare. But not the shows again, not just yet. Dim the Mann Center house lights and enter Wilco, stage left, filtering over to their instruments quietly, as if to not draw too much attention to themselves following a blistering set from unlikely co-headliners Sleater-Kinney and what seemed like an unusually short intermission. When the spotlights caught him, frontman Jeff Tweedy issued a characteristically humble hello, and was ushered into song by the morse-code-ish first notes of opener “A Shot In The Arm,” a fan favorite now reimagined as the unintended vaccine anthem Wilco never knew they wrote.
After having been postponed from last summer, the rescheduled dates of the ironically named “It’s Time” tour are weathering not just coronavirus resurgence, but Tropical Storm Henri and broken bones, too — the unfortunate result of a recent scooter accident that had opener Nnamdi absent for two tour nights for emergency wrist surgery. Still, this show finally happened. Sleater’s Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker stuck mainly to more recent material that included tracks from the just-out Path Of Wellness, and Tweedy and co. skimmed cuts from across their catalog. Both bands paused, if only briefly, to collectively acknowledge the unique privilege of shared, live music, further helping to diffuse some of the tensions, as masks were lowered and beers raised, a communal secular prayer on one warm summer night in the otherwise cold comforts of these strange times. — JOSH PELTA-HELLER