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Backed by the three-member Jam Band (composed of local musicians), he opened with "Rising from the Ashes," from his 1990 solo record, High Wire, displaying the creamy and urgent guitar tone that helped define the Isley sound. Isley's a first-class rock & roll guitarist from a family known for soul, funk and smooth R&B — and naturally, he brought out his bag of tricks. He played the guitar behind his back and plucked the strings with his teeth, to the delight of the small but enthusiastic crowd gathered in the first few rows.

As a singer, he doesn't quite relish every note like his older brother Ron, but he performed the '70s soul classic "That Lady" with plenty of soul. The set ended with what Isley termed a "Sunday song," the gospel-groove "Shout." The song was the Isley Brothers' first big hit, recorded long before youngest brother Ernie joined the band, but on Sunday it was both a recognition of the family's place in rock & roll history and, as always, a great party starter.— Christian Schaeffer


Gretchen Wilson
You know what you're going to get during a Gretchen Wilson concert: no-frills, unpretentious, hard-twanging country-rock tunes — with an emphasis on the rock. Her mid-afternoon set kicked off with the 2004 hit "Here for the Party." Sporting a black camisole, sparkly silver belt and jeans and big hoop earrings, the Pocahontas, Illinois, native grinned her way through the tune.

Gretchen Wilson reached out to the redneck contingent.
Todd Owyoung
Gretchen Wilson reached out to the redneck contingent.
Jeff Tweedy reached out to the non-redneck contingent.
Todd Owyoung
Jeff Tweedy reached out to the non-redneck contingent.

Wilson's songs about hard-working men and women — those who prefer beer and whiskey, and jeans and T-shirts, to fancier things — still don't fit into Nashville's current musical climate. If Taylor Swift is country's latest girl-next-door princess — albeit one who wears sneakers and T-shirts instead of fancy frocks — Wilson is the tough girl who's new to town, ready to corrupt with a flask of Jack and a carton of smokes.

But Wilson's bluesy, hard-rock edge — her band soundchecked with a snippet of the Scorpions' "Rock You Like a Hurricane" and her guitarists and electric fiddler exhibited some serious meedlee-meedlee-mee riffage later in the set — helps keep her from being pigeonholed. Newer tune 'Work Hard, Play Harder" resembled the bluesy boogie of the Black Crowes' "Jealous Again" (although so much so that the band actually sued her last year for copyright infringement) and it sounded like a bit of ZZ Top-referencing honky-tonk slipped in during "There's a Place in the Whiskey." And a shredding version of "The Star-Spangled Banner" broke out after "Politically Uncorrect," as the band raised an American flag high above the stage, to riotous applause.

Wilson's voice needs no effects or manipulation to sound clear and strong, and she was clearly humbled and honored to be performing. She was clearly having tons of fun, too: Right after "All Jacked Up" she took a generous swig of Jack Daniel's, then launched into "Redneck Woman." Clusters of women stood up around the pavilion and sang along proudly to the song's rallying cry: "Hell yeah!" (AZ)


Wilco
Fellow RFT writer Christian Schaeffer made a salient observation about Wilco during its Farm Aid set: Seeing the band in a festival setting is an entirely different experience from seeing it in a club. Compared to the band's three-night Pageant stand last year, this was certainly the case. Those shows had no shortage of raucous moments, but yesterday's set was loose and raw — more like the tightest jam session you'll ever see than a well-orchestrated gig.

Now, this isn't to say that the six-song set was a mess. It was quite the opposite, in fact, starting with a stunning version of "Bull Black Nova," from this year's Wilco (The Album). Mixing Television's ringing chord repetition with Tweedy's gruff soul-man vocals — and a crashing, unison chorus that underscored the band's tightness — the song kept building and building in intensity and volume as it progressed, culminating in a hurricane of noise: Tweedy, bassisst John Stirratt and guitarists Nels Cline and Pat Sansone pounding out shrieking riffs and masterminding effects. The look on Tweedy's face during this section was bulldog-ferocious and intense — the kind you'd be scared to meet if you saw him in a dark alley.

Guitar heroics were a common thread throughout, whether they involved Cline's nuanced plucking on "Impossible Germany" or Sansone's lazy windmills, Who-style, throughout the set. More impressive, the pair even had an entertaining guitar duel on final song "Hoodoo Voodoo." As Tweedy stood back and grinned at his bandmates, Cline did some guitar mumbo-jumbo on the left side of the stage and spun around like a wobbly marionette. Muttonchop-sporting Sansone, meanwhile, hammed it up a bit more with some classic guitar-solo faces and moves, such as aiming his axe like a gun. (Who won? Call it a draw.)

It was also Casual Friday in the Wilco camp sartorially, with most sporting plaid shirts or dress shirts and scruffy facial hair/haircuts. (Only pianist/multi-instrumentalist/cowbell handler Mikael Jorgensen held it down in a natty suit.) This extended to Tweedy's banter, which included a cheeky nod to the area's lack of pride: "I'm from Belleville," he said before "Heavy Metal Drummer." Cue cheering, as he continued: "Usually, we say" — and here he lowered his voice and sounded meeker — "Hey."

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