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Wilco — 5 June 2019, Knoxville, TN (Bijou Theatre) [Night 1 of 2]

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As the Bijou Theatre lights dimmed and Wilco prepared to take the stage for the first time in more than 18 months, the heavy stage curtain remained tantalizingly drawn. When it finally opened, what would it reveal? To what extent would the performance that was about to take place be familiar and to what extent would it be different? And on a day when tickets went on (pre)sale for the first American tour in many moons, how much would this long-awaited performance say about where the band is headed in the short — and long — term?

 

These types of questions, I suppose, are what has drawn fans from seemingly across the continent to this charming Tennessee college town mid-week. What materialized on stage was a group of musicians that no doubt had some rust to shake off but seemed, more or less, to pick up almost exactly where they left off since the last time they had all been on stage together in St. Paul, Minn., in November of 2017. Jeff and Co. just seemed happy to be making music together again, if also trying to rediscover some of the muscle memory that goes with playing some of their sizable back catalog of songs.

 

After One Wing — which perhaps revealed some of that rust when Pat came in early on one of the harmony vocal parts, out of step with Jeff and John — Jeff rhetorically asked the charged-up crowd, “Remember that one?” Jeff continued, “We do, sort of. We’re gonna be remembering all night.” Fittingly, though, the band first seemed to hit its stride on the very next song — the lone A.M. cut played tonight — Shouldn’t Be Ashamed.

 

That was kind of the way it went, at least to these ears. Some songs, like the mid-set duo of Impossible Germany and Born Alone, sounded as brilliant and polished as ever. The former drew almost certainly the biggest ovation of the night after a beautifully visceral Nels solo that sounded refreshed (since he hasn’t had to play it every night ad infinitum). And I was thinking that even in a rehearsal-type of show that the Shepard tone portion at the end of Born Alone isn’t one that can really be half-assed; rather, the guitars really accentuated Glenn’s drumming to create an intense burst there.

 

Meanwhile, other songs definitely revealed some of the proverbial cobwebs like when Jeff had lyric flubs — some more noticeable than others — on songs like Either Way and Forget The Flowers. And a few saw the band not totally in sync musically, such as on Dawned On Me which Jeff stopped and restarted because, as he said, “I think we’re a little off from each other.”

 

While the setlist didn’t feature anything drastically unexpected, there were a couple of relative surprises. One was a full-band version of Remember The Mountain Bed with Nels on lap steel. It’s a song that Jeff has played solo quite frequently during the band’s hiatus, so it was a bit jarring (in a good way) to hear it fleshed out again, not to mention its appearance toward the end of the main set. “We’ve never played that song that late in the set before,” Jeff remarked afterward. “We just wanted to see if we could do it.” And then it was a bit unexpected to hear the jaunty arrangement of Outta Mind (Outta Sight) to kick off the encore before settling into more familiar territory with the run of Jesus, etc.>Heavy Metal Drummer>I’m The Man Who Loves You that wound up closing the show.

 

From a banter standpoint, Jeff mostly joked about the band’s hiatus and return. When Nels donned a white double-neck guitar before Dawned On Me, Jeff quipped, “We had to go get that out of a pawn shop. We still had the ticket, luckily.” Earlier in the set, he had commented that “our long national nightmare is over,” and deadpanned that “it sure is nice to see you again and it sure is nice to put these clothes back on and (assume) this persona again.” At different points, Jeff also jokingly asked the audience what it had been doing over the hiatus as well as whether it had been seeing other bands. Of course this produced any number of people yelling things, to which Jeff replied, “Those other bands all suck, except Nick Lowe because I heard someone yell him.”

 

Certainly there was a level of informality at this first comeback show that you would expect from what, in some ways, could be viewed as a public rehearsal. That also manifested itself in some of Jeff’s banter, such as when he called out our own theashtraysays after (I believe) Company In My Back. “You have a loud clap...Vince,” Jeff said to the gentleman who had snuck up toward the front of the stage. “That’s right, I know all of your names.” Later in the set, before The Late Greats, Jeff also mused aloud to his bandmates that he thought they probably should just continue after playing it. He admitted to the crowd that he had initially planned for the set to end there. “So now we’re in bonus territory,” Jeff said. “It’s been way too long, years, since I wrote a set. I forgot how long songs are.”

 

As much as these Knoxville shows are serving a warm-up of sorts for the band, they are also almost certainly practice for its crew. So I would be remiss not to mention them, particularly the excellent sound and the set design, which featured a modified version of the forest-like setting from the Schmilco tour with red lights interspersed among the “fauxliage.” Also notable among the (new) stage props I could see was Glenn’s drum head, which featured the well-known image of Adam West as Batman holding a lit black bomb over his head — whether this has anything to do with the forthcoming Wilco record was not addressed by Jeff — as well as a psychedelic camel sculpture of some sort displayed behind Mikael’s rig.

 

Anyway, I’m sure that the band will use its second show at the Bijou to work on more songs and shake off some more cobwebs before heading over to Europe for its first bonafide post-hiatus tour next week. Whether that will include any new material remains to be seen, though it seems unlikely (particularly in this age of social media). Even though audience members were asked prior to the show to leave their phones in their pockets and security initially made some attempts to enforce that, it was mostly a losing battle. Maybe that doesn’t really affect the decision to play something new or not, but I’m sure it doesn’t help.

 

So for now, we’re left with just the good ol’ Wilco back catalog and a group of guys seemingly happy to be reunited at long last. And for the vast majority of the 700 or so folks fortunate enough to make it inside the intimate Bijou each night this week, that is probably more than good enough.

 

Here was the complete setlist, as played, for Night 1 of Wilco's long-awaited return:

 

Hell Is Chrome

Whole Love

War On War

If I Ever Was A Child

Cry All Day

One Wing

Shouldn't Be Ashamed

Either Way

Company In My Back

You And I

Impossible Germany

Born Alone

I'm Always In Love

Forget The Flowers

Someone To Lose

Remember The Mountain Bed

The Late Greats

Locator

Dawned On Me

Random Name Generator

Hate It Here

-----------------------------

Outta Mind (Outta Sight)

Jesus, etc.

Heavy Metal Drummer

I'm The Man Who Loves You

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Your gig report looks a bit rusty too. :lol

Looking forward to reading your full review !

 

Man, give a guy a few hours! :headbonk

 

Anyway, there you go...

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Oh does it feel good to be reading a recap of a Wilco gig! Thanks for the detailed report, Paul! Hope you all have a great time tonight.

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A wonderful read, thanks Paul. Loved every minute of it and they somehow made the (at times) near tortuous 18-1/2 month wait fade away almost immediately. Such a thrill to see them again and know so much more to come!

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OHFORFOXACHE!

 

They better play Hell Is Chrome next week or I will be most upset. I'll give them 5 chances...

Ah, stop yer whining or no beer for you! #FOXACHE

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Thanks for your recaps, I appreciate the work you put into capturing everything about the show and always look forward to reading them.

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Also, maybe I missed something, but I saw you refer to some possible new music.  I knew they'd been recording, but should we (hopefully) be expecting a new record soon?

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Also, maybe I missed something, but I saw you refer to some possible new music. I knew they'd been recording, but should we (hopefully) be expecting a new record soon?

Yeah, I believe it’s fairly common knowledge (or at least expectation) that there will be a new Wilco record out sometime later this year or early next...

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Yeah, I believe it’s fairly common knowledge (or at least expectation) that there will be a new Wilco record out sometime later this year or early next...

 

I've been predicting an October release for awhile now and I'm well known for my Nostradamus-like Wilco predictions. 

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I think the surprise release of Star Wars a few years ago spoiled me so that I'm always hopeful they'll drop a new record unannounced, although I think sadly that was a one time thing.

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I haven’t posted here in a long, long time, even though my love of Wilco has endured. Last night was show 17 for me, and tonight will be 18.

 

This write up is pretty much spot on. However, I wanted to point out that (I’m pretty sure the band tweaked its arrangement of “I’m the Man Who Loves You.” Pat’s on acoustic guitar now and it’s not nearly as piano heavy. IMO the change is for the better.

 

As the Bijou Theatre lights dimmed and Wilco prepared to take the stage for the first time in more than 18 months, the heavy stage curtain remained tantalizingly drawn. When it finally opened, what would it reveal? To what extent would the performance that was about to take place be familiar and to what extent would it be different? And on a day when tickets went on (pre)sale for the first American tour in many moons, how much would this long-awaited performance say about where the band is headed in the short — and long — term?

 

These types of questions, I suppose, are what has drawn fans from seemingly across the continent to this charming Tennessee college town mid-week. What materialized on stage was a group of musicians that no doubt had some rust to shake off but seemed, more or less, to pick up almost exactly where they left off since the last time they had all been on stage together in St. Paul, Minn., in November of 2017. Jeff and Co. just seemed happy to be making music together again, if also trying to rediscover some of the muscle memory that goes with playing some of their sizable back catalog of songs.

 

After One Wing — which perhaps revealed some of that rust when Pat came in early on one of the harmony vocal parts, out of step with Jeff and John — Jeff rhetorically asked the charged-up crowd, “Remember that one?” Jeff continued, “We do, sort of. We’re gonna be remembering all night.” Fittingly, though, the band first seemed to hit its stride on the very next song — the lone A.M. cut played tonight — Shouldn’t Be Ashamed.

 

That was kind of the way it went, at least to these ears. Some songs, like the mid-set duo of Impossible Germany and Born Alone, sounded as brilliant and polished as ever. The former drew almost certainly the biggest ovation of the night after a beautifully visceral Nels solo that sounded refreshed (since he hasn’t had to play it every night ad infinitum). And I was thinking that even in a rehearsal-type of show that the Shepard tone portion at the end of Born Alone isn’t one that can really be half-assed; rather, the guitars really accentuated Glenn’s drumming to create an intense burst there.

 

Meanwhile, other songs definitely revealed some of the proverbial cobwebs like when Jeff had lyric flubs — some more noticeable than others — on songs like Either Way and Forget The Flowers. And a few saw the band not totally in sync musically, such as on Dawned On Me which Jeff stopped and restarted because, as he said, “I think we’re a little off from each other.”

 

While the setlist didn’t feature anything drastically unexpected, there were a couple of relative surprises. One was a full-band version of Remember The Mountain Bed with Nels on lap steel. It’s a song that Jeff has played solo quite frequently during the band’s hiatus, so it was a bit jarring (in a good way) to hear it fleshed out again, not to mention its appearance toward the end of the main set. “We’ve never played that song that late in the set before,” Jeff remarked afterward. “We just wanted to see if we could do it.” And then it was a bit unexpected to hear the jaunty arrangement of Outta Mind (Outta Sight) to kick off the encore before settling into more familiar territory with the run of Jesus, etc.>Heavy Metal Drummer>I’m The Man Who Loves You that wound up closing the show.

 

From a banter standpoint, Jeff mostly joked about the band’s hiatus and return. When Nels donned a white double-neck guitar before Dawned On Me, Jeff quipped, “We had to go get that out of a pawn shop. We still had the ticket, luckily.” Earlier in the set, he had commented that “our long national nightmare is over,” and deadpanned that “it sure is nice to see you again and it sure is nice to put these clothes back on and (assume) this persona again.” At different points, Jeff also jokingly asked the audience what it had been doing over the hiatus as well as whether it had been seeing other bands. Of course this produced any number of people yelling things, to which Jeff replied, “Those other bands all suck, except Nick Lowe because I heard someone yell him.”

 

Certainly there was a level of informality at this first comeback show that you would expect from what, in some ways, could be viewed as a public rehearsal. That also manifested itself in some of Jeff’s banter, such as when he called out our own theashtraysays after (I believe) Company In My Back. “You have a loud clap...Vince,” Jeff said to the gentleman who had snuck up toward the front of the stage. “That’s right, I know all of your names.” Later in the set, before The Late Greats, Jeff also mused aloud to his bandmates that he thought they probably should just continue after playing it. He admitted to the crowd that he had initially planned for the set to end there. “So now we’re in bonus territory,” Jeff said. “It’s been way too long, years, since I wrote a set. I forgot how long songs are.”

 

As much as these Knoxville shows are serving a warm-up of sorts for the band, they are also almost certainly practice for its crew. So I would be remiss not to mention them, particularly the excellent sound and the set design, which featured a modified version of the forest-like setting from the Schmilco tour with red lights interspersed among the “fauxliage.” Also notable among the (new) stage props I could see was Glenn’s drum head, which featured the well-known image of Adam West as Batman holding a lit black bomb over his head — whether this has anything to do with the forthcoming Wilco record was not addressed by Jeff — as well as a psychedelic camel sculpture of some sort displayed behind Mikael’s rig.

 

Anyway, I’m sure that the band will use its second show at the Bijou to work on more songs and shake off some more cobwebs before heading over to Europe for its first bonafide post-hiatus tour next week. Whether that will include any new material remains to be seen, though it seems unlikely (particularly in this age of social media). Even though audience members were asked prior to the show to leave their phones in their pockets and security initially made some attempts to enforce that, it was mostly a losing battle. Maybe that doesn’t really affect the decision to play something new or not, but I’m sure it doesn’t help.

 

So for now, we’re left with just the good ol’ Wilco back catalog and a group of guys seemingly happy to be reunited at long last. And for the vast majority of the 700 or so folks fortunate enough to make it inside the intimate Bijou each night this week, that is probably more than good enough.

 

Here was the complete setlist, as played, for Night 1 of Wilco's long-awaited return:

 

Hell Is Chrome

Whole Love

War On War

If I Ever Was A Child

Cry All Day

One Wing

Shouldn't Be Ashamed

Either Way

Company In My Back

You And I

Impossible Germany

Born Alone

I'm Always In Love

Forget The Flowers

Someone To Lose

Remember The Mountain Bed

The Late Greats

Locator

Dawned On Me

Random Name Generator

Hate It Here

-----------------------------

Outta Mind (Outta Sight)

Jesus, etc.

Heavy Metal Drummer

I'm The Man Who Loves You

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Also, maybe I missed something, but I saw you refer to some possible new music.  I knew they'd been recording, but should we (hopefully) be expecting a new record soon?

 

 

Yeah, I believe it’s fairly common knowledge (or at least expectation) that there will be a new Wilco record out sometime later this year or early next...

Based on Glenn's drum skin should we be expecting some Batman themed album title?

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Based on Glenn's drum skin should we be expecting some Batman themed album title?

 

Yeah, I wouldn't be surprised to see another cheeky, non-serious album design from them.

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