By Christopher Gray, Fri., May 6, 2005
Houston is many things: world-class port city, strip-club nirvana, Atlanta's only serious rival for Southern hip-hop capital. Unlike Austin, though, it's hardly prime Wilco territory. Space City's oft-lauded appreciation of the arts doesn't usually extend to brainy, difficult rock bands.
En route from Jazz Fest to Coachella, the Chicago sextet's April 23 show at the sold-out Verizon Wireless Theater downtown was that much more remarkable, not least because it nearly fell apart. Frontman Jeff Tweedy was visibly on edge all night, later to cite his deficient sound equipment and nicotine patch, and he finally snapped late in the main set, interrupting "Reservations" to exasperatedly entreat a fan down front to "shut the fuck up."
It was a jarring breach of performer-fan decorum, and yet completely understandable: She was hooting incessantly for Being There's "The Lonely 1." For a moment, the earlier triumphs of "Hummingbird" and "Jesus, etc." hung uncertain in the air, until Tweedy essentially shrugged his shoulders and finished the song. It seemed to be all the catharsis he needed, because the band burned like Crazy Horse on formidable finisher "Spiders (Kidsmoke)."
Fittingly, the crowd half Houstonian, half Austin and Dallas weekenders screamed itself hoarse. Tweedy came back out, sheepishly gave a quitting-smoking spiel, and everyone had a good laugh. The all-rock remainder ("The Late Greats," "I'm a Wheel," "Passenger Side," "Kingpin," "Misunderstood") didn't feel conciliatory at all, more like both band and crowd could finally relax. Perhaps there's hope for Wilco in H-town yet.