When your new album is bookended by two of your longest songs, it's generally not a good idea to start off with them back to back. But over eight albums of stylistic experimentation, Wilco have earned the right to make their own rules. And they exercised that right Saturday at the historic Massey Hall, for the second of two Toronto concerts that marked the beginning of the tour for their latest LP, The Whole Love, which will be released next week. The 12-minute "One Sunday Morning (Song for Jane Smiley's Boyfriend)," a gentle shuffle, recalled the Chicago band's early days, subtly showcasing each member's instrumental skills. Then the mood immedaitely changed as the lights dimmed, some bandmembers traded instruments, and Wilco launched into "The Art Of Almost," a bass-heavy rocker that dresses their melodic folk-rock in noisy guitars and psychedelic keyboard.
Jeff Mangum is indie rock's J.D. Salinger. Since releasing a pair of albums in the '90s with his project Neutral Milk Hotel, the elusive musician has retreated into self-imposed exile. The records, 1996's On Avery Island and especially 1998's In the Aeroplane over the Sea, have come to be regarded as cult classics, but in the past decade and change, Mangum has avoided cashing in on their cachet, instead retreating from the public eye, emerging only occasionally to perform two-song sets with his friends in the Elephant 6 Recording Company or to release field recordings of Bulgarian folk music. It was only natural, then, that Friday's solo set at Toronto's Trinity-St. Paul church carried such a sense of occasion.