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Wilco — 28 September 2017, El Paso, TX (Abraham Chavez Theatre)

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Just before the end of the main set of Wilco's Texas kickoff show, Jeff thanked the relatively sparse but singularly spirited crowd at the Abraham Chavez Theatre. "What you've lacked in size, you've made up (for) in heart," he said. And with that, the band finished out a performance that won't go down as the best of the tour but was surprisingly enjoyable in its own way, thanks in part to the energy provided by the attendees.

It was an audience that had waited more than eight years for Wilco to follow up its lone El Paso performance — in the same theater, which has sort of a civic auditorium kind of feel to it (at least to me). It's hard for me to say exactly how full or not the room eventually got or what that might have looked like from the stage, but there were definitely more than a few empty seats just before the show started.

Many of those who did attend, however, seemed genuinely excited to see the band again. "We waited for you for a long time," one person shouted. "We're here," Jeff replied. "We come out every 10 years whether you want us to or not." He then asked how many had been here the last time Wilco played, and when there was a fairly healthy response, he said. "Thanks for the return business." That seemed to open up the floodgates for even more shouts from the crowd — some welcoming the band, some requesting songs, some just yelling things to yell them — and Jeff finally had to put a gentle kibosh on things by looking down, pointing at his setlist and saying, "We made a program of songs to play for you. That's what we do. We're not taking requests — yet. Actually we do take requests on our Web site. That's why we're playing this song for the first time in...months."

And with that, Jeff and his bandmates launched into Handshake Drugs (which was nice to hear again after a relatively long hiatus), though they were still perhaps getting their feet back under them on the song, judging by the very abbreviated feedback outro. Or maybe that was just due to the relatively loose feel of the show. I think it's probably fair to say that there just wasn't quite as much intensity from the band, in general, which you wouldn't be able to tell at all if you just saw them once or twice but which is somewhat understandable given the crowd and the market.

That's not to say that they didn't play as well or hard as ever, or phoned things in. Take Nels' really wonderful solo on Impossible Germany, a song I know some people might be tired of but which I still find something inspiring to take away from nearly every time. For as tried and true as some of Wilco's stage moves might be — memo to a Brazilian lady, Glenn did stand on his drum stool again last night! :rock — Nels almost always comes up with something interesting that makes it worth hearing, and last night was no exception. To me, it seemed like he knew exactly what he wanted to do with it and went at it with a brilliant approach that stretched the solo out further than he really had to.

Afterward, as the crowd was giving Nels a little extra round of applause, Jeff made some kind of comment about Oscar De La Hoya that I didn't quite fully hear (maybe something about being the Oscar De La Hoya of the guitar?). But anyway, he then proceeded to make maybe his longest visit to Banter Corner, saying, "They told us that this was gonna be the show on this tour we did the worst in attendance, that no one would show up. I can't really see you, so I assume there's only a couple of people sitting out there. But quality people, choice people — people who know when a goddamn rock band is in town." (pause) "Or people with disposable income and nothing better to do." ;)

Some of those people made themselves known at weird times, getting, if not exactly rowdy, then at least a bit rambunctious. For instance, as Jeff gently started into Reservations, part of the audience didn't quiet down as usually happens but kept yelling weird stuff like, "Come to my house for Thanksgiving." It might have just been a few tipsy folks or the overexuberance of youth, but Jeff seemed bemused and said, "I really wanna hear a recording of this. It's just a strummed chord and...WHOO! I think there's nothing really that impressive going on here, but thank you. I'm glad you guys are having a good time."

Late in the show, during the first encore, Jeff had another back and forth with the crowd on Jesus, etc., explaining how the band had been trying to get bigger audiences to sing along and how he was curious whether a smaller crowd could sing as well. While the El Paso crowd put forth a pretty good effort, Jeff magnanimously conceded that "it wasn't worse than the bigger audiences."

When it was all said and done, it was a perfectly fine beginning to what promises to be a fun little five-show tour within a tour across Texas. For a place Wilco doesn't get to all that often — and, incidentally, perhaps the closest show it will ever play to Mexico — I would say that the small but spunky audience certainly got its money's worth. :thumbup

Here was the complete setlist, as played (didn't get a look at a printed setlist, so can't say if there were any changes/omissions):

Via Chicago
If I Ever Was A Child
Cry All Day
I Am Trying To Break Your Heart>
Art Of Almost
Pickled Ginger
At Least That's What You Said
Someone To Lose
Handshake Drugs
Bull Black Nova (acoustic/electric hybrid arrangement)
Impossible Germany
Forget The Flowers
California Stars
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)
Casino Queen>
Outtasite (Outta Mind)

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