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Wilco — 12 June 2019, Brussels, Belgium (Ancienne Belgique) [Night 1 of 2]

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Well, Wilco warm-up week (or three) leading up to the Solid Sound Festival at the end of the month reached Europe starting tonight with the first of two shows in Brussels at the venerable Ancienne Belgique. And while I can’t say that the band is clicking on absolutely all cylinders quite yet, it put on a more-than-solid show that easily delighted the 1,800 or so crammed into the AB’s main hall.


As with Jeff and Co.’s stateside return last week in Knoxville, Tenn., it seemed that a fairly healthy percentage of the sold-out crowd had traveled quite a distance to see the band play its first European non-festival show in nearly two and a half years. Or at least many of those in the first few rows did, where I know personally there were a couple of very excited Brazilians as well as Germans, Brits, Scots and of course quite a few Americans in addition to the Belgians themselves.


Before Jeff even really paid any visits to Banter Corner, he teased the crowd early on in the set during Hummingbird when he paused for an extra beat or two during the “His…goal” lyric and allowed the enthusiastic, singing-along audience to jump ahead of him before smiling, pointing at himself and mouthing, “That’s my part.”


He would continue to have interactions with a few different folks at the front as the night wore on, giving some indication of the relative intimacy of the AB (which really is kind of a perfect venue for Wilco, IMHO, except maybe for the tight 10:30 p.m. curfew). For instance, Jeff apparently spotted a guy who had been on the same flight as the band and crew coming into Brussels and joked that after spending four hours in the immigration line together, “we got to know each other pretty well.” Then there was the Brazilian couple right in front of Jeff who seemed to really want to convey to him that they had traveled all the way from Brazil, which they eventually did. “Sorry we don’t come to Brazil enough so that you have to come here to see us…not that there’s anything wrong with here,” Jeff quipped. Then noticing the homemade T-shirt one of them was wearing featuring a caricature of him, Jeff joked that “you could have drawn him a little thinner. Did you draw that yourself? Get the fuck outta here.”


And of course, how could we forget our own the ashtraysays (aka Vince), who possibly set a record by being name checked by Jeff for the third show in a row. Jeff had been having issues with his glasses slipping down on his nose all night, which must have been driving him a little crazy — it was remarkable how often he had to keep pushing them up, even in the middle of solos — and he finally commented on it, noting that it made him feel like he was “scrutinizing” the crowd. For some reason, at that point, someone in the front row caught his attention. “Why are you pointing at Vince? Does he have some nose stickum? That’s a thing.” [Edit: Maybe he needs a can of this stuff.]


One other funny bit of banter came in the encore when Jeff introduced Jesus, etc., by saying he hadn’t heard a great deal of singing along, which he understood because maybe they hadn’t played many songs to which people knew the words. So he suggested that this might be a song people could sing along to — or not, if they didn’t want to. From the audience came a man’s voice in slightly-accented English: “What do you prefer?” After a brief pause, Jeff deadpanned, “I prefer you didn’t ask me questions.”


From a musical standpoint, the band seems to still be getting accustomed to playing together again — not that most of the audience could probably tell. I’m not sure how much you can attribute some of Jeff’s lyric flubs to the layoff, considering he would usually flub a line or two even when the band was touring regularly (and did again tonight, such as on the second verse of I Must Be High). But when he does something like blowing a cue and coming in early on Heavy Metal Drummer — which elicited smiles all around from his bandmates — then you can tell that maybe there’s still some lingering rust.


At the same time, you might say that the time off helped give other songs a bit of a jolt. I’m thinking, specifically, of something like Handshake Drugs, where Nels’ fills between verses were especially fierce on this night, or even Bull Black Nova, whose ending the band seems to have tweaked a bit (for example, I don’t think Jeff even uttered the final “Pick up” and the band continued to jam out a bit before coming to a somewhat-abrupt conclusion).


I should also say a few brief words about the production, or lack thereof, compared with the Knoxville shows. In Europe on this warm-up run, it seems like the band will have a relatively stripped-down stage setup with no “fauxliage” or really any decoration at all. In addition, the stage plot seemed a little different with Glenn’s drum set on flat ground, much closer to the front of the stage than I remember, and also set exactly between Jeff and John’s microphones, which hasn’t always been the case.


And while Glenn’s bass drumhead still boasted the image of Adam West as Batman holding a lit bomb that debuted last week in Knoxville, I believe most of the guitars and equipment that the band is using is part of their stash that is stored permanently in Europe, so that also means the appearance of some not-often-seen guitars like the pale yellow Rickenbacker that Jeff used on The Late Greats, to cite one example.


It will be interesting, as always, to see how the setlist shakes out for Night 2 in Brussels and whether the precedent of no repeats that was established during the recent two-night run in Knoxville continues to hold. (After surveying the audience to see how many people would be back the following evening, Jeff made one of his usual jokes about how it would be good if only a small fraction returned so he and his bandmates could just play a similar set.) I’m sure that won’t happen, but personally it would be kind of funny if it did. Well, maybe not to those who travelled from afar…


Anyway...here was the complete setlist, as played, for Night 1 in Brussels (the only changes from the printed setlist were the omission of Locator as the first song of the first encore and the combination of the two planned encores into just one long one):


Hell Is Chrome

I Am Trying To Break Your Heart>


I'll Fight

Handshake Drugs


Shouldn't Be Ashamed

How To Fight Loneliness

I Must Be High

California Stars

Hesitating Beauty

Bull Black Nova

Laminated Cat (aka Not For The Season)

Whole Love


Impossible Germany

Someone To Lose

Born Alone

At Least That's What You Said

The Late Greats


Dawned On Me

Random Name Generator

Jesus, etc.

Heavy Metal Drummer

I'm The Man Who Loves You

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BBN report - as mentioned, the arrangement was a bit new on this one, with Pat back on bells again and sans-guitar, same as Knoxville. Jeff on electric guitar. Jeff’s mid-song shreds on electric are a welcome return, but I do miss Pat’s guitar on the outro. And he did indeed skip the “pick up” at the end this time.

As for the nose stick-um name check, I have no idea.

No signage was deployed for those interested. Perhaps AMS...

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