Wilco w/ Kacy & Clayton @ The Riverside Theater
June 18, 2017
We tend to contextualize musicians by where they happen to fall on a fairly standard career timeline, a narrative arc that runs somewhere between young upstarts and elder statesmen (or for those less fortunate, between one-hit wonder and “where are they now?”), but in actuality the phases of any artistic endeavor are more ambiguous than they seem in some truncated band bio. Take, for example, the sort of space Wilco occupies these days, where everyone more or less knows what to expect from each release, but based on their previous heights, they’re still being held to a certain standard. Gone are the days when every album was make or break, all the personnel squabbles have been laid to rest, but your biggest concern becomes not being too boring. Oftentimes it’s the exact point most acts become irrelevant, but with Wilco, this kind of comfortable plateau oddly seems to suit them.
Opening for the band at the Riverside Theater tonight was Canadian duo Kacy & Clayton, which, if you haven’t already figured it out from the words “Canadian duo Kacy & Clayton” printed above, is an alt-country outfit, performing here with a full band. Touching on sounds as diverse as U.K. psychedelic folk and Gram Parsons’ idiosyncratic concept of Cosmic American Music, they clearly know their stuff, but like many similar instances of the genre, they’re enjoyable without being particularly moving. Yet while the songs might be a tad forgettable, as may be the case with anything in such a folk tradition, they’re executed well and imbued with a dose of their own personality. As entertaining as the music was the between-song banter, such as an off-the-cuff anecdote about how recording with Jeff Tweedy exposed them to a lot of exotic American snacks and American music, but also chaotic American politics.
As for the headliners, the audience, which in addition to being overwhelmingly Caucasian (as usual) is starting to look a little old as well, seemed to already be familiar with what was coming their way. Even the lead-off rendition of “Via Chicago,” one oddly punctuated with random bursts of dissonant noise, didn’t seem to catch anyone off guard, which isn’t to say it wasn’t interesting. In fact, what followed in the next two hours—whether it be something from their latest, last year’s Schmilco, like “Normal American Kids” or an offbeat oldie such as “Spiders (Kidsmoke)”—was typically excellent, if predictable, and accentuated by a forest-like stage set that subtly shifted its artificial sun to accommodate the mood of each number. By this point the band might be more than a known quantity, unlikely to deviate much from their present course, but they’re still damn good at what they do.