Concert Review | Bob Dylan + Wilco + My Morning Jacket + Richard Thompson in Peoria, IL (AmericanaramA Festival)

Bob Dylan | Photo by Jason Gonulsen

When I travel to see live music, I go in looking for a feeling.

A part of me will always need these journeys away from home to seek something familiar in a different environment. I go to see what will happen. I go because I still believe in the power of live music, and I believe in people who also travel — near and far — to see and feel live music. Maybe I just want to be with these people for a few hours.

I heard someone say before My Morning Jacket took the stage that they were there “just for the experience.” While I feel this is also important, it’s a much different situation for me — I have so much invested in these bands/artists (My Morning Jacket, Wilco, and Bob Dylan) that I’m not there to simply blend in or to “say I was there.” I am actively searching to be moved, and I expect to be.

Richard Thompson opened Peoria’s turn on the AmericanaramA tour, spending around thirty minutes effortlessly delivering a clinic with his guitar, proving every word that has ever been written about him being one of the greats. That he is.

He would later join Wilco to play one of his songs, “The Calvary Cross,” and to perform the Woody Guthrie-penned “California Stars,” which of course Wilco arranged for Mermaid Avenue. Thompson, though, was merely an appetizer (we’ll call him the chicken wings of the show), and I mean that with a load of respect. The fact remained that he started his set at 5:30 PM on a Thursday evening in Peoria, and that’s not going to boil any water in the heartland (the blue collar folk be workin’, yo).

Things immediately got interesting for My Morning Jacket, however. See, they decided to come out swinging with “Circuital,” “It Beats For You,” “Heartbreakin Man,” “I’m Amazed,” Smokin From Shootin,” and “Touch Me I’m Going To Scream, Pt. 2.” Shit. Leave the stage, you guys. It’s not going to get much better.

But then. Then, I’m not sure what happened. But whatever it was, it seemed to go on for a good hour. The song was “Dondonte,” and hearing it live was part creepy, part cinematic; it featured a saxophone solo from Carl Broemel, and I swear Jim James grew fangs and (more) hair like Teen Wolf somewhere mid-jam.

When it ended, the members of Wilco casually walked on stage and eased into a cover of George Harrison’s “Isn’t It a Pity.” No big deal, you know, except this was kinda what I had in mind (besides the beauty of the East Peoria Casino and welcoming hillside)  — Jim James and Jeff Tweedy on the same stage, trading verses, enjoying themselves.

Wilco + My Morning Jacket | Photo by Jason Gonulsen

This coulda and shoulda have been enough for lesser bands, but it wasn’t enough for Jim James and MMJ. We got three more fabulous songs — “Victory Dance,” “Wordless Chorus,” and “Dancefloors,” the latter featuring every Jim James dance move a human has ever seen or imagined or imitated. The man is a front man, and an absolute important piece in modern rock history. Get used to him being around for a long time.

Wilco is a tight band these days, despite the claims of “Jeff Tweedy Band” from a dude to my left (who, wouldn’t you know it, started taking photos with his iPad; he also had a fanny pack). Let it be known that I’m nearing the “I’ve seen Wilco too many times in a short amount of time” stage in my concert-attending career. At least that is what I thought, before they opened with Doug Sahm’s “Give Back the Key To My Heart.” This is the same song Uncle Tupelo covered on Anyodyne. It also happened to be the first time Wilco had bothered dusting it off since November 22nd of 1999, and they chose to open with it.

This is the beauty of live music: just when you start to think you’ve seen it all, you get a swift kick in the ass. (Never again will the “I’m tired of Wilco” thoughts grow loud enough for me to acknowledge them. I just had no idea Doug freaking Sahm would be the savior.)

“Kingpin” was another surprise, although I am pretty certain they’ve played this one many times since 1999. Still, I hadn’t heard it in a bit. “Isn’t Pekin around here?” Tweedy remarked after the song in which he sang “Livin’ in Pekin,” a town ten miles south of Peoria.

“Box Full of Letters” followed, a song that is/was in reference to Tweedy’s relationship with Jay Farrar after the split of Uncle Tupelo. To hear it wasn’t shocking, but it fit the motif of the evening, or at least you could reasonably conclude that Tweedy knew exactly where he was: in Central Illinois.

This was one of the best sets I’ve seen Wilco do. Tweedy even coaxed drummer Glenn Kotche to stand up behind his kit before “I’m The Man Who Loves You,” even though he recently retired the act at this year’s Solid Sound Festival. The reason according to Tweedy? This was Wilco’s first show in Peoria.

Before I talk about Bob Dylan, let me point out a few more observations from the Peoria crowd:

— I met an old hippie, wearing a wrinkled shirt (possibly from Kohl’s), who was casually and openly smoking a doobie on the main floor. He told me, “This is my 50th Dylan show!”

— There was a fan who I saw four or five times, making his rounds through the crowd, and every time he appeared he said, “good crowd, good crowd!” Is this a thing?

— One guy told me, “Fuck, man, this would have been better in Champaign. My ex-wife lives here.”

Okay. On to Dylan.

The crowd of thousands who were not on the floor mostly sat, quietly and respectfully. It was as if they were attending a lecture, which I guess wasn’t that far from the truth. This was impressive, only because watching Dylan these days can be immediately frustrating.

I don’t know how to say this, because I truly love the work of Bob Dylan, and I appreciated every minute he was on stage. But as selfish as this may sound, it was difficult to hear him sing “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” and have zero idea as to what verse he was performing, only because I could barely understand him. Couple that with the fact that the song was radically re-arranged, and the result in my brain is mass confusion.

I’m going to stop being critical, though, because, shit, what the hell have I done?

I will continue with this: His band, which now again includes Charlie Sexton on guitar, was tight on every note. They didn’t really move an inch, but they are fabulous musicians, and I can’t imagine pleasing Bob Dylan is an easy task.

And when they concluded the evening with a single-song encore of “Blowin’ In The Wind,” that feeling I know and love — it was near.

“How many roads must a man walk down?” Dylan sang.

More than I’ve traveled, Bob. More than I’ve traveled.

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