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Wilco — 19 June 2019, Rouen, France (Le 106)

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Sometimes you pre-judge the relative quality of a show based on the venue or the location or the date or any number of factors — or at least I do — and sometimes you’re fairly spot on and other times you’re pretty far off. There’s always that pesky human factor, both in terms of the band and the audience, that can elevate or diminish a performance. Along those lines, I’d have to put tonight’s first-ever Wilco gig in Rouen, the capital of Normandy, into the surprisingly fun category.


I must admit my first impression of the venue, Le 106, wasn’t all that great. It’s an airplane hangar-like structure across the Seine from Rouen’s city center in an entertainment-type complex along the riverfront that is obviously still under development. I’ve seen these types of venues in Europe before and they tend to lack much character and be pretty miserable acoustically. But boy was I happy to be wrong when we entered into the concert hall itself, which was kind of a black box but actually surprisingly intimate and sonically stellar.


Then there was the somewhat inauspicious beginning to the show itself. Two songs in, John of all people played a couple of funky bass notes during War On War that even caused Jeff to look over quizzically for a beat or two. And after a couple more songs, Jeff admitted that he was dealing with a little bit of a cold. “So if my voice sounds a little rougher than usual,” he joked, “it’s a little treat for you. You’re getting a little something extra.” There were also song requests being shouted from the crowd after just a few songs. “Poor Places!” some guy at the back yelled, to which Jeff replied, “It’s way too early in the show to be yelling songs at us. We don’t know what we’re gonna play yet…but we’re not gonna play that one.”


What really might have derailed the show, though, was the apparently drunken Frenchman fairly close to the stage in front of Jeff who, six songs in, figured it would be a good time to respond to Jeff’s observation and compliment to the audience that it was really quiet between (and I guess, during) songs. “It’s your fucking fault it’s quiet,” the man blurted out in strongly accented English. “Give us more.” I think Jeff, and probably most of the audience, couldn’t quite believe what he had said and there was a little back-and-forth, but basically an amused Jeff finally replied, “Oh, we’ll give you more. We’ve got a lot more songs to play.” After the man finally quieted down (or perhaps was told to quiet down), Jeff added something to the effect that hadn’t been the kind of quiet he had been talking about.


The funny thing was that the heckler almost seemed to galvanize Jeff and his bandmates in a way, because they were pretty much on fire after that. Shortly thereafter, for example, it was a pleasant surprise to hear the opening chords to Via Chicago for the first time since the hiatus and the crashing drums and other noise interludes of the full-band arrangement seemed to wake the crowd up as well.


Except for the Woody Guthrie two-fer of California Stars (on which, notably, Jeff didn’t use a 12-string guitar tonight, though he has been recently, and Mike played keyboard for his solo instead of the organ) and Hesitating Beauty; the chill-inducing Reservations; and the opening of At Least That’s What You Said, the rest of the main set was pretty much Rock Songs, Etc. Which was fine by me. You could even make an argument that it was Wilco at its most Faces-like, and when someone in the audience yelled out, “Ooh la la,” at one point (as an expression of delight), Jeff didn’t miss a beat and quietly quipped, “Poor old granddad.” It didn’t get much of a response from the audience, but I appreciated it.


Other visits to Banter Corner included Jeff sharing, unprompted, that he had learned earlier in the day that the crown of Chicago’s Tribune Tower was modeled after the so-called Butter Tower (Tour de Beurre) of the famed Rouen Cathedral. And a bit later, Jeff apologized that it had taken the band so long to play here and said it would be back. “We’ll see you in 26 years,” Jeff deadpanned. Without missing a beat, a guy quickly responded, “I’ll be here.”


And of course, the show couldn’t end without Jeff making at least one more comment about the heckler. We could see Jeff periodically scanning the area where the guy had been, and I thought he might have left, but apparently he was just passed out or something? I couldn’t see him, so can’t say for sure, but Jeff basically said that he was amused that the guy who had "wanted more" didn’t know how to pace himself. And Jeff joked that he wanted someone to tell the guy when he came to that it had been the greatest rock show of all time and that the band members had decapitated themselves when it was over and their blood was spewing everywhere (I’m not making that image up).


Well, I don’t think I’m ready for that outcome — or even to declare this to be the greatest rock show of all time. But I can safely say, I think, that more than any show thus far on this comeback trail, this one seemed to me to be the one where the band members were having the most fun being on stage with one another. They were borderline goofy at times, and it was nice to see.


Here was the complete setlist, as played, in Rouen (there were no changes from the printed setlist, except that the final two songs were listed as a separate second encore but were just part of one long encore instead):

I Am Trying To Break Your Heart
War On War
Whole Love
If I Ever Was A Child
Cry All Day
One Wing
Handshake Drugs
Via Chicago
Either Way
California Stars
Hesitating Beauty
Bull Black Nova
Laminated Cat (aka Not For The Season)
Impossible Germany
Box Full Of Letters
Random Name Generator
Red-Eyed and Blue>
I Got You (At The End of the Century)
At Least That’s What You Said
I’m Always In Love
Jesus, etc.
Hate It Here
The Late Greats
Heavy Metal Drummer
I’m The Man Who Loves You

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I'm beginning to think they only played 'Hell Is Chrome' for me personally on the first night in Bruxelles.


This is not an issue I have a problem with.


Jeff told me that was the case, actually... :turned

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