2/12/14 – Great Scott

John Stirratt and Pat Sansone, founding bassist and current multi-instrumentalist of Chicagoan rock institution Wilco, respectively, call The Autumn Defense their “side project.” But giving it that label both undersells the quality of the work and misrepresents the history of the duo. The two native southerners’ friendship began in 1999 in New Orleans, although Sansone didn’t join Wilco until 2004. Despite constant studio time and touring as Wilco, as well as producing albums with other artists, The Autumn Defense has managed to steadily churn out five albums since their first release, The Green Hour (2001). Last month, they stopped by Great Scott to promote their recently released and suitably titled fifth album, Fifth (2014).

I had seen them three times before, at each of Wilco’s Solid Sound Festivals held at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art in North Adams, MA. Each performance was better than the last, and I was giddy with anticipation to be transported back to positive summer memories in the midst of a freezing February.

T. Hardy Morris, of Dead Confederate and Diamond Rugs fame, opened the show with an entrancing display of his “outlaw country grunge” genre. A Georgian minstrel with a feather in his beanie and a guitar in his arms, Morris’ casual presence and beautifully constructed songs captivated all. He and his band played songs off of his debut solo release Audition Tapes (2013), along with some new tracks, which Morris consciously prefaced by commenting that he knew all of it was new to most of the audience.

When The Autumn Defense took the stage, sweet acoustic riffs and impressive vocal harmonies instantly enveloped the audience — a crowd of nonchalant yet attentive 30-somethings — in a smooth and flowing experience. The set list consisted of songs from every Autumn Defense record, with highlights including new tracks “None of This Will Matter,” “Calling Your Name,” and “This Thing That I’ve Found,” all distinct creations that are beautifully connected by the thread of Stirratt and Sansone’s seemingly flawless falsettos and sublime choruses. The band did not leave out their more familiar crowd-pleasers, such as “Back of My Mind,” “We Would Never Die,” and “The Swallows of Londontown,” the beginning melodies of which were greeted with cheers of familiarity and thrill. Each track was easy listening, with the lulling harmonies complimented by perfect guitar work.

The close proximity to the band that Great Scott allows illuminated the expert musicianship of Stirratt and Sansone. Halfway through the set, Sansone paused between songs, smilingly shook his head at the spellbound audience, and said, “This is the part of the set where we usually have to tell people to be quiet. Thank you, Boston.” The encore culminated with a cover of Big Star’s “You Can’t Have Me,” which allowed Sansone to elaborately riff in a way that most of their sweet harmonic tunes don’t.

Every Autumn Defense experience I have further confirms that they’re much more than just Wilco’s Sally on the side; The Autumn Defense is a unique and crucial vessel through which Stirratt and Sansone can channel their own vision. I emerged from Great Scott into the painfully cold winter night knowing that I had just experienced something autumnally special.

Fall in February: The Autumn Defense
  • Great opening act
  • Incredible musicianship
  • Not sold out
8.5Overall Score

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