Donnelly: Wilco @ The Uptown Theater, December 3, 2011

“Tonight we’ve got a little something for everyone,” declared Jeff Tweedy midway through Wilco’s sold out Saturday night show at the Uptown Theater.  “Merry Christmas!”

He wasn’t kidding.

Wilco’s set list was probably the most unpredictable in all the dozen or so times I’ve seen this band over the years.  No Jesus, Etc., no I Am Trying to Break Your Heart, and no Handshake Drugs.

Instead, the band hopped around their discography, with an emphasis, of course,on their newest effort, The Whole Love.

Pretty much everyone agrees that Wilco’s most recent three albums are not as good as the two that came before – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and A Ghost is Born.

Let’s be honest here, those two albums are classics that will stand the test of time, so equaling them in subsequent releases was unrealistic at best. The Whole Love probably comes the closest to those glory years, but it still has drawn plenty of criticism from fans that expect a groundbreaking effort with each new record

Nevertheless, on Saturday night some of the biggest ovations were for the newer tunes.

Before Wilco emerged, though, legendary songwriter Nick Lowe brought his British charm to the stage to “warm up the room.”  “But it seems as though this room is already plenty warm,” he quipped between solo acoustic renditions of some of his most popular songs.  After his 40 minute set, the only question I was left with was, “No Cruel To Be Kind?”

More on that later.

Wilco took the stage- which was dressed in white bunches of ghost-like sheets hanging all over- and reached back to A Ghost is Born for the tune, Less Than You Think, a quiet, brooding, noise inflected song that builds into a catchy melody before fading into the static fuzz netherworld. They don’t play this song all that often, let alone to open up a show, so right off the bat I was a little surprised by the selection.

As the fuzz dissipated, the syncopated electronic beat of The Art of Almost– one of Wiclo’s new ones – took over.  As is almost always the case, sonically, the band was impeccable and Tweedy’s expressive voice was strong and clear.  Likewise, Nels Cline commanded his army of guitars to create buzzing accents when he wasn’t busy flying around the frets or shaking the feedback out of his instruments. 

Most impressive was his work on the ballad that turns into an all out guitar anthem, Impossible Germany.  Though Cline always busts out a ripping solo over Tweedy’s repetitive dual guitar line on the song’s outro, this time he attacked it a little differently, improvising his way into a jazz fury that lent the song a different feel from versions I’ve witnessed in the past.

When the song ended, Tweedy shook his head and glanced incredulously at Cline, who was busy fiddling with his arsenal already getting ready for the next one.  “That was fun,” Tweedy stated flatly.

The audience agreed and paid an extra long ovation to the guitar mad scientist.

Rhythm section stalwarts Glenn Kotche and John Stirratt were as they always are –  solid, energetic, and impressive – but in a weird way.  I say weird because, though their respective parts are certainly complex in some cases, they are so subtle that it’s easy to overlook.  But their understated presence is vital to the production of Wilco’s sound and continued status as a roots-rock band, especially since Tweedy commands so much attention.

Four songs in, another surprise came in the form of one of the band’s most loved songs, Misunderstood.  Normally reserved for the end of sets or encores, Wilco rolled through the nostalgic tune with an energy that some long-time fans haven’t seen in awhile.  One Wilco fan that I know has seen at least a handful of their shows over the years, said after the show that this was the band’s best performance he’d ever seen.

For me, I don’t think it was the best, but it was right up there.  But who knows, maybe I’ve idealized the older shows as they get farther and farther away.

Next, the band went in for another new one, the introspective Black Moon which featured a nice droopy lap steel instrumental from Cline. Then the band immediately returned to another favorite, Via Chicago, which might have been the best perfromance of the night.

“I dreamed about killing you again last night, and it felt all right to me…” sneered Tweedy over the thick acoustic strums.

The all-over-the-map trend continued with nice versions of You and I, Kamera, Box Full of Letters, and Born Alone which received as big of a crowd reaction as there was all night for a new tune.

And it didn’t stop there.  Wilco seemed to be playing for themselves, not pandering whatsoever.  Well, OK, there was a little pandering before they played Capitol City, a silly-sounding new song that everyone seems to hate. That was excused by a friend with the explanation, “Every band deserves to have their Octopuses Garden.”

I guess.

“You can tell if an audience is hip,” Tweedy said sheepishly, “by if it is digging this song.  Bring it Kansas City!” 

To be fair, the song was a bit better than it is on the album, but that’s about it.

As the set came to its end, Tweedy displayed his trademark jogging-in-place dance that always rears its ugly head during the instrumental section of Hummingbird, then they closed with the always rockin’, Shot in the Arm.

The band returned to the stage for not one, but two encores. The latter saw opener Nick Lowe emerge again and together, the musicians ended the night playing Lowe’s hit, Cruel To Be Kind, complete with the backing vocals provided by Tweedy and sideman Pat Sansone.

If there were any kinks to be found on this night, they certainly weren’t on the stage. They had more to do with a ticketing issue that apparently left many concertgoers steamed. Not only were some of the issued Ticketmaster tickets simply not scanning, there was also a mix-up with some of the pre-sale tickets bought through Wilco’s fan club.  The result was that some who bought the more expensive tickets got shafted, and I’m guessing that some people never even got in to the show.

“We’re really sorry that happened,” announced Tweedy mid-set.  Not that he had any part in the deal, or could have done anything about it.

“So if you could please move to the back,” joked Tweedy pointing at a front row fan, “and let the others move to the front, please.”

Tweedy was just having fun up there, showing that when the band has fun, the audience usually does too. 


Less Than You Think

Art of Almost
I Might
Black Moon
Via Chicago
You and I
Box Full of Letters
Born Alone
Radio Cure
Impossible Germany
Capitol City
New Madrid
Someday Soon
War on War
Dawned On Me
A Shot in the Arm
Whole Love

Heavy Metal Drummer
I’m The Man Who Loves You
Standing O
Outtasite (Outta Mind)
Encore #2:
Cruel to Be Kind (w/ Nick Lowe)

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9 Responses to Donnelly: Wilco @ The Uptown Theater, December 3, 2011

  1. Kent says:

    You know how you can tell if a band is hip??

  2. kcfred says:

    Jesus of Cool
    …not a word about Nick Lowe? Hell, he taught these guys everything they needed to know about writing catchy songs. Not one word?
    Nick Lowe was the shit. How’s that? Be kind to your elders, sonny, we got to see all the cool bands when they mattered. Not one word about Nick Lowe?

  3. Sonny says:

    Who is this Nick Lowe you speak of???

  4. legendaryhog says:

    Tickets – Pipeline tells me to fuck myself.
    On the ticket note, I went to this show and one of my four tickets did not scan properly. The front-of-house folks made us wait outside in the rain with 30 or so other ticket-holders who suffered the same fate. They essentially would not let anyone in whose ticket did not scan without a confirmation number

  5. PB says:

    Nick Lowe
    kcfred, no real mention of how his set was if that’s what you were asking (I heard it was great), but in all fairness, he did at least mention Mr.Lowe.

    “Before Wilco emerged, though, legendary songwriter Nick Lowe brought his British charm to the stage to

  6. kcfred says:

    I Stand Corrected
    Guess I had to look real closely (eyes are getting bad), thought Nick (even with just one acoustic guitar) was the star of the show.
    Guess I’m not much of a Wilco fan.

  7. Merle Tagladucci says:

    I want to buy legendaryhog a drink just for that post.

  8. JC says:

    Whining from a small % of fans does not=plenty of criticism
    I totally disagree with your assertion that there has been “plenty of criticism” from fans regarding The Whole Love. In my estimation the vast majority of comments on fan forums have been very positive. Not to mention the fan ratings of 8.9/10 on Metacritic, 4.5/5 on iTunes, and 4.6/5 on Amazon. A handful of Wilco fans who think anything that’s not Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is crap, or can’t get over the fact that Jay Bennett was fired from the band notwithstanding, most Wilco fans genuinely love the new album.

    The pre-sale/fan club tickets were not more expensive, they were the same price. They just went on sale a few days earlier for people in the know. The real issue, aside from tickets that wouldn’t scan properly, had to do with The Uptown management letting about 50-100 people in early if they paid $5, regardless of their place in line. So someone who got there at 6:00 could essentially jump the line for $5 and the person who showed up at 3:00 and stood in the rain all afternoon got screwed. The band did not sign off on that policy, and that’s what Jeff was pissed about.

  9. RJ says:

    Those ratings are nice…
    …seriously, they are what they are. But as a long-time Wilco fan, I have to agree with Matt and say that the new album is the band’s second worst ever, just in front of Wilco (The Album). At least IMO.

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