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Wilco, Nickel Creek, and the B-52s
Beale Street Music Festival
May 2-4, 2003
Review by Matt Kilgore


On the opening day of the 2003 Beale Street Music Festival, as the night was taking full effect, the packed crowd awaited Wilco to take the stage. The audience was filled with confused Seether fans who hadn't left from that earlier act, John Mayer fans trying to get an early spot in the crowd to sit through Wilco, and scattered about were the Wilco enthusiasts. I was amongst the latter and actually enjoyed the mixed crowd, which gave me the ability to feel like I was one of the privileged to understand the beauty and talent Wilco offers. When the band took the stage, they were obviously not trying to win over the mixed crowd with the first few songs, but instead offered an opening that would appeal to those familiar with the unique Wilco style. The first song was  "Handshake Drugs," from the More Like the Moon EP for those who had bought Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Though I wasn't familiar with the song, I thoroughly enjoyed the unique percussion and laid-back feel of the offering, with the captivating lyrics, "The saxophone started blowing me down, I was buried in sound, taxi cabs are driving me around, to the handshake drugs I bought downtown." The show then transitioned into the complex "Sunken Treasure," which built up to a glorious conclusion which was made even more enchanting when delivered under the Memphis stars.

The set list merged into a mostly Yankee Hotel Foxtrot theme. The amazing "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart" shone as the audience was amazed at the energy and talent displayed from drummer Glen Kotche. After seeing him live, I am convinced Kotche is one of the finest percussionists today. The wall of sound was also entrancing in "War on War," where I just had to close my eyes and soak it in. "I'm the Man Who Loves You" featured the impressive and unique guitar solo by Jeff Tweedy, filled with a great distorted sound. Even though "Jesus etc." didn't have the violins from the studio version, it was still a beautiful experience. After performing numerous Yankee Hotel Foxtrot numbers, Wilco offered a few more numbers from the album: "Being There," "I've Got You (At the End of the Century)" and "Misunderstood." To introduce the closing song, Tweedy made the comment "Some people tell us to not quit our day jobs. Well, this is our day job, and we think we're pretty good at it" and thanked the crowd. The band then played a pleasing version of Woody Guthrie's "California Stars," and left the audience feeling quite satisfied with the portion of the concert performed by Wilco, a band at the top of its game. As the show came to a close I overheard one of the fans sitting through Wilco to see John Mayer, comment to his friend, "yeah, they were pretty good once they got going". I shook my head, hoping that maybe another Wilco fan was fresh in the making.

Nickel Creek

After many of the loud and crazy concerts experienced at the Beale Street Music festival, the alternative bluegrass trio Nickel Creek was a nice departure from the pace. The music produced from the beautiful Sarah Watkins, the shy Sean Watkins, and the energetic Chris Thile, was played in a way which showed the closeness of the band. Many of the solos and improvisations answered each other's instruments created a beautiful collage. The band also does its best to welcome the audience into the community as Chris points out to the crowd the river they viewed from the stage commenting, "now this is just freking inspiring right here! Yeah this is gonna be a fun show." 

The show included some really interesting cover songs. Chris sang a fun rendition of the White Stripes' short number "Little Room" from the _White Blood Cells_ album. Another cover was inserted into the lovely rendition of "The Lighthouse's Tale". After the beautiful song was nearly finished, the audience heard the chorus from Coldplay's "Yellow." This entire song was amazing and one of the highlights of the concert. Another one of the best parts of the show was the closing cover of the Beatle's "Taxman." This song actually worked very well on the bluegrass instruments, with exellent vocals from Chris Thile. 

One of the highlights of Nickel Creek's own songs was the fast-pace version of "Spit on a Stranger," here filled with lots of energy and featuring power-poppy harmonic vocals from Sean and Sarah. Another great moment was the impressive instrumental display of the Grammy winning "Smoothie Song". Another crowd pleaser was the performance of their arrangement of the traditional song "The Fox". Another captivating moment was in the instrumental onstage fueds during "House of Tom Bombadil." Several numbers not offered on the two major Nickel Creek albums, including one new song, were thrown in the mix to add a nice variation to the set list. Despite a slow start and some flat version of fan favorites "This Side" and "Beauty and the Mess," the show was still very enjoyable.

The B-52s

With the energy offered by Athens, Georgia band, the B-52s, no one would know they haven't had a studio album in over ten years and had their heyday back in the 1980s. The show was a dance party that didn't slow down, and was filled with zany humor and amazing song arrangements. Although I didn't know half the songs performed, the show was so fun that I didn't mind one bit. The songs so catchy that I would be singing along by their end anyways.

The B-52s did not fail in presenting all the classics the fans were hoping for. "My Own Private Idaho" had some of the most humorous lyrics of the evening. "Roam" had Kate Pierson shining with this great B-52s mainstay. Fred Schneider never failed to try his best dance moves to entertain the audience in every song. "Junebug" had Schneider yelling at the crowd "Hey there junebug, you sure look good dancing in the mud. In the red mud!" One of the highlights of the show was the amazing "Channel Z." The cymbals crashing led the song and the lyrics show off the unique counter-culture personality of the band. The band had their first closing with the familiar "Love Shack" and created an energy audiences don't show in most concerts. The band returned to play the song any B-52s' show would not be complete without, "Rock Lobster." The band played the song with abandon and was having as much fun as any audience member. The band left with the roaring applause it had earned. 


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