Wilco light the furnace in Birmingham

Sloss Furnace
Birmingham, AL
May 11, 2012



Before heading to the other side of the pond for a European jaunt and still basking in the glory from The Whole Love (2011), Wilco made a brief trek across the Southeast that would eventually culminate in a near pole position spot for the third edition of the Hangout Festival.

On this, the second of the five date run, the critically lauded Windy City sextet triumphantly took  Birmingham, making up for a — whether by happenstance or purposeful — three year hiatus that has caused their Magic City resident faithful to make short road trips to receive doses of the band’s live show.

Birmingham is a city known for many things. It is a city with roots that are as deep as they are regretful. In regards to music however, it is a city that is filled with unpredictable yet highly tasteful music fans.  Naturally when this smart and strong opinioned collective got wind that Wilco would be making a stop in their town, they welcomed the band with open arms and a very sold out Sloss Furnace venue.

Formerly known as Sloss Furnaces, the retired pig iron-producing factory that has lost the plurality in its name over the years has become a historic park, concert venue and destination for  ghost hunters. On this night, it would be the host for the Jeff Tweedy led band of six.

As a concert venue, Sloss is a quite remarkable place to see a show. Its twin smokestacks serve as an ominous reminder of the air quality that preceded the early 1960s Clean Air Act and the surrounding neighborhood still bears semblance to the indentured servitude-like living situations that were known as “home” to the blast factory’s African American workers.

All of this factors into the state of mind of a concertgoer when attending one of the few and far between shows that are played at Sloss, creating a vibe that is both retrospective and open. Boasting a vast stage and finely tuned sound system, performers have adequate space to rock out while, more often than not, the musical offerings take all in attendance to a mysterious and remarkably special place.

Sounds from the stage started from the band’s support, Purling Hiss, who gave an energetic but short thirty minute warm up.

As noted, the highly anticipated and subsequently highly praised The Whole Love was released last year and the Friday night performance certainly reflected its freshness and the band’s favor for their most recent release. However, in spite of this obvious affinity and much to the chagrin of the more seasoned and critical fans in attendance,  the band left plenty of room to run the discography gamut.

Beginning the night with “One Sunday,” the tone for an easy and relaxed night of music was set, a settled mood Tweedy for which front man Tweedy is known. This said, that mood would zigzag in tempo as the show progressed.

Quickly sliding into fan favorites, the ensemble demonstrated the litany of aptitudes that are found within the now stable-since-2004 band. Songs like “Poor Places,” “Spiders(Kidsmoke),” “Handshake Drugs” and “California Stars” stirred the devoted Sloss multitude, but all came with zero observation from Tweedy who opted to leave all commentary to the good time comments of the jeering fans.

After “Shot in the Arm” and before blasting into “Wilco(The Song),” Tweedy interacted briefly with the crowd by proclaiming, that the crowd was “definitely the best audience on the tour so far.”  Forgetting to consider that there was only one show that preceded the night in Birmingham, the crowd lapped it up,  reciprocating with a heavy round of applause interspersed with howls.

Wilco would end the set with an appreciated performance of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot‘s  “I’m the Man Who Loves You,” but the voluntary sing-along participation from the fans during the entirety of the show earned them a highly unique three song Being There (1997) encore — made up of “Kingpin,” “Monday,” and “Outtasite(Outta Mind)” — that cemented the extraordinary abilities that multi-instrumentalist Pat Sansone and heroic guitarist Nels Cline have brought to the table since their Wilco induction in 2004.

On its whole, Wilco fans that came out to enjoy a good night of Rock & Roll got exactly what they bargained for.  The cool breezes of Alabama’s night air complimented an exceptional rock mix by Wilco’s stage crew and complete with the atmosphere that Sloss Furnace inevitably brings, this show was on that  Birmingham’s Wilco faithful will remember for a lifetime.



 Click the thumbnail(s) to view more photos from the show by Andi Rice