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Wilco — 24 March 2017, Knoxville, TN (Tennessee Theatre) [Big Ears Festival]

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While I'm flattered and humbled that anyone would look forward to and/or be interested in what I have to say after a given show, it occurred to me tonight that it's also a bit inexplicable. It goes without saying, perhaps, but any recap I could write would never be able to fully capture even the perspectives of the few people I observed around me, much less any number of other audience members.


How to convey what was going through the mind of the woman in the front row who literally sat motionless with her arms folded for the entire show? Or the VCer (lurker? regular poster? make yourself known!) sitting front row center who was brave enough to stand a few times when no one else would and who seemed to thoroughly enjoy himself? Or the small Asian woman sitting next to me in the second row who was up and dancing a few times early in the set only to get up not long after and walk out, never to return? Or the senior citizen sitting a few seats down who told me that it was his first Wilco experience and then started shooting videos on his phone?


As Jeff said to the crowd at one point during the Big Ears festival headlining gig, "You guys are weird. I like that." He might have been referring to the odd vibe from an audience that definitely felt like a festival, where only a small fraction of the attendees seemed really into it. But instead of that sort of crowd dynamic happening outdoors in a big field, it came indoors in a nice theater. That definitely created a sit/stand issue, with the sitters winning out until the end of the main set. Finally after a rocking start to the first encore with Random Name Generator, Jeff had to almost plead with audience members not to go back to the comfort of their seats: "Don't sit down; just sway," he said. "We've got a ballad for you now, but just because this is slower doesn't mean (it didn't originate) from a dark lord or something."


(It didn't necessarily help that Big Ears has three tiers of admission with roughly the first 12 rows of seats reserved for top-tier VIPs until about 10 minutes before the show. Some of us early arrivers among the second-tier folks lucked out in that we were told they would eventually open up the VIP section and we were able to play the game and ultimately snag some open seats in the pit. But I think most folks didn't realize that or just didn't feel like moving up too much. It was only at the end of the show when a few people began to come down front and helped generate some more energy.)


Anyway, that was about the extent of Banter Corner except for a few brief one-liners. No long stories or political talk tonight (and Jeff was even wearing his Ghost T-shirt tonight instead of the "We're in this together" one). Probably the weirdest bit came toward the end of the main set when someone toward the front yelled out, "Can we smell your hat?" With a look of mock horror, Jeff shot back, "Can you smell my hat? No! It's not that kind of festival." Or something to that effect. Jeff also made a comment about this being the biggest crowd Wilco had played in front of in Knoxville — it was actually the band's fifth show at the Tennessee Theatre, almost like clockwork every three years since 2009 — but subsequently made a joke I didn't catch (something about playing to 12 or 13 of them at a time? Did anyone catch that?)


So to end up where I started, how to really convey what it was like to be at this show? For me, it was fine. Pretty fun, even, since I was able to get a better seat than I've had at any show this year. Opening with Radio Cure was an interesting choice, but otherwise the set went pretty much by the book. Of course I'm certain that more than a few folks were thrilled to finally be able to see some of the newer songs from Wilco Schmilco and Star Wars performed live or to hear favorites such as Impossible Germany or I'm The Man Who Loves You (complete, of course, with Glenn doing his stand-on-drumstool routine). So who am I to really judge?


As I've said on a number of occasions, this is more or less the show Jeff seems to want to present for now and we can either take it or leave it. I'm still taking it, and enjoying it to a certain extent. Was it personally transcendant? Not necessarily. For someone else, maybe so. That's the beauty of live performance, I suppose. Here's to some more great moments — perhaps even a few transcendant ones — as Wilco's members shift focus to their various side projects over the final couple of days in Knoxville...


For now, here was the complete Big Ears festival setlist, as played (there were no changes from the printed setlist):


Radio Cure

If I Ever Was A Child

Cry All Day

I Am Trying To Break Your Heart>

Art Of Almost

Pickled Ginger

Misunderstood (hootenanny arrangement — Nels on lap steel, Pat on banjitar, John on 12-string acoustic guitar)

Someone To Lose

War On War

Via Chicago

Bull Black Nova (acoustic arrangement)


Impossible Germany

We Aren't The World (Safety Girl)

Box Full Of Letters

Heavy Metal Drummer>

I'm The Man Who Loves You


The Late Greats


Random Name Generator

Jesus, etc.


Spiders (Kidsmoke) (electric arrangement)


A Shot in the Arm (hootenanny arrangement — Nels on dobro, Mikael on melodica)

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I was the one standing. I was trying to be respectful of the others that all seemed to want to sit down, but there were times during the performance where I just thought it would have been ridiculous to stay seated and I was compelled to get up and move. It was an absolutely brilliant performance, possibly the finest musical performance I have ever seen live.

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I was the one standing. I was trying to be respectful of the others that all seemed to want to sit down, but there were times during the performance where I just thought it would have been ridiculous to stay seated and I was compelled to get up and move. It was an absolutely brilliant performance, possibly the finest musical performance I have ever seen live.

Hey man, kudos to you for standing (and for saying hi)! I'm glad no one tried to shout you down. It takes some cojones to stand when you're right front and center like that and very few others are (and you're very close to the band). Glad you enjoyed the show. You're definitely one of the people I was thinking of while writing that recap late last night.

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"But subsequently made a joke I didn't catch (something about playing to 12 or 13 of them at a time? Did anyone catch that?)"


He was referring to the few folks that strip up and showed they were being moved by the music they were creating.


When Glenn got on his stool, he mothed twice "Get up. Get up". We ran into him after the show walking to the hotel. He thanked us for standing. Said they were disappointed more didn't. Said it was a festival crowd so oh well. He made it very clear that they want to see everyone up and moving. Even said they were feeding off our energy and appreciated seeing me moved so much by the music. (Don't mean for that to sound obnoxious)


I found the performance to be one of the best. If not the best I've ever seen and I go to about 50 shows a year. Because I was so close and could see no one in the crowd it was like being a rehearsal room with them. Just a surreal night.


Lastly, a big thank you to bbop for all of your efforts writing these up for each show. We are lucky to have you so kindly taking the time to post. And..I turned around a few times and you were really really into it.

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Been a member on here for awhile but not around much anymore.  Saw my first Wilco shows when A Ghost Is Born came out.  I think I have seen Wilco at least 5 times but it has been awhile.  I attended Wilco's show in Knoxville last night and thought it was superb.  I heard a lot of songs that I had never heard live and hadn't appreciated until I heard them live.  Also, was nice to hear the songs from Star Wars and Schmilco live.  I've watched a lot of their more recent shows on youtube, etc. over the past year. 


It being a festival format with pretty much general admission for anyone with a festival ticket, I was worried that I might not even be able to gain access to the Tennessee Theatre for the show.  A festival representative assured me via email that they would clear out the venue after each performer to make sure that the VIP and Premier ticket holders got in to the show before allowing general admission.  So, I spent the extra dough on the Premier ticket to assure entry.  I arrived at the theatre late (around 8:50 for a 10:00 show) and there was NO LINE at all.  I checked with the staff to make sure that the venue would be cleared at 9:45 after the prior performer finished his set.  Staff said "uhhhh, no."   If you want in for Wilco you better go in now.  Panic set in, but I made it inside and found a couple seats without too much problem. 


Although there were a lot of Wilco fans inside there, there were also simply "festival" patrons there to see the show and meander around, in and out during the show.  I think that is what saved me and allowed easy entry in for even this show.  It also explains why the crowd wasn't super hyped the whole time.  Again, there were a lot of Wilco fans there but also some newbies there for the festival.  It made for a different kind of vibe for sure. 


Having said that, as I bona fide Wilco fan, I really enjoyed the set list, the band's energy and performance, and the set itself.  It was really pretty to see the band play surrounded by trees and leaves as if they were in a play or something. I was also impressed by how long Wilco played Friday night.  I clocked it in at around 2 hours.  I love Wilco and am so happy they came to Knoxville again and that I got to see them.  The crowd was fine and even though they could've been a little more involved, it did not detract from the great show at all.  As someone else said, this was as fine a concert performance as I have seen.  Come back soon.

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