Wilco / Jim White The Mod Club, Toronto ON - August 3, 2004

"I still can't believe that this is the venue." You could hear some variant of this incredulous statement leave more than one lucky pair of lips at the slick and tiny Mod Club. It did seem like an odd place to see America's biggest cult band, if only for its intimate size and flashy décor, but the 500 or so ticket holders at this sold-out Wilco show were fortunate to be there. Backed by a full-band, idiosyncratic folk-singer Jim White aced his way through a few selections from his recent album, Drill A Hole In That Substrate And Tell Me What You See, before inviting Oh Susanna to the stage for a song. He also imparted some philosophical words of wisdom to the crowd. "Get up every morning and say, ‘I'm fucked,'" he instructed, "If at the end of the day you don't end up broke, shot, or in the hospital, then everything's fine." White's good-natured set was a unique way of leading into the six-headed monster that currently is Wilco. If their brilliant A Ghost Is Born has been met with mixed reviews, most of the criticisms suggest that the record is too distant, cold and mechanical. You wouldn't have guessed this based on the rousing ovation that greeted the band as they took the stage to Ghost's understated "Muzzle of Bees." The warm reception continued through an amazing set consisting almost entirely of songs from Ghost and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, with a spirited "A Shot In The Arm" the only exception. While he seemed most content challenging new member Nels Cline to guitar freak-out duels, Jeff Tweedy engaged with the audience sporadically, even stepping out of character by clutching the mic without a guitar and leading an aerobics demo during "Hummingbird." The dynamic set led to two distinctive three-song encores: the first rocked, including the raucous rarity "Kicking Television" and a harrowing "Via Chicago"; the second lilted and was book-ended by Being There songs "Far, Far Away" and "The Lonely 1," which Tweedy rendered emotionally. If the critics are right, then sure, Wilco are approaching an almost mechanical perfection these days, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.