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Wilco — 20 June 2019, La Rochelle, France (La Sirène)

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And so this too-short Gallic odyssey comes to an end for now (until Paris in September, I guess), and after one quick festival appearance in Spain this weekend, so will Wilco Warmup 2019. The band is now officially back, shortly headed to Solid Sound 6 and then onward for what promises to be an interesting year ahead.


For the final headlining show of their comeback tour, in the charming West Coast port city of La Rochelle, Wilco performed at the strange-but-cool venue La Sirène (The Mermaid). From the outside it looks almost like a concrete sailboat, but underneath the “sail,” on different levels there were a number of different spaces, including the main concert hall, a bar with a small stage and even a small record and book shop.


Unfortunately for the relatively small but enthusiastic crowd (maybe 350-400, if I had to guess) that seemed to be mostly made up of locals, Jeff’s cold seemed to have worsened a bit overnight and the band played a more-than-respectable show but one that didn’t really approach the heights that Wilco can reach at full strength. I likened it, at least in my own mind, to a day at the office when you might be fighting it a little bit but still do your job well enough.


That’s not to say there weren’t some amusing and memorable moments sprinkled in. One came fairly early on when Jeff first addressed the audience, saying, “Merci beaucoup.” He added, “All I know how to say is merci beaucoup. I wish I could say more, but I was removed from French class. It’s a long story. My French teacher threw an eraser at me, at my head, and it missed and went out the window. Oh, he had good reason to not like me. He was still kind of a dick, though.”


Another funny interlude came during and after California Stars, which ironically was the only Mermaid Avenue track played. Anyway, during the song, a security guard started handing out bottles of water to people in the first few rows and it definitely caught the band’s attention. Afterward Jeff asked, with a bit of a smirk, “Is everyone OK? I noticed they’re handing out water. This isn’t Coachella. It’s really nice in here.” Then, looking over to his right and addressing the guard directly, Jeff added, “I’m glad you took a water solo, though.” The guard then handed Jeff a bottle of water, to which Jeff replied, “Thanks, but I can’t drink this. I’ll have to pee.”


Then late in the main set, after a couple different bursts of applause for Nels following Impossible Germany and Jesus, etc., Jeff looked over at him and told the crowd, “Nels speaks some French.” As everyone (including me) eagerly anticipated what he might say, Nels stepped over to Jeff’s mike and uttered a slightly sheepish, “Non.” It was perhaps a bit Flight of the Conchords-esque, if anyone knows that bit in Foux Du Fafa. Jeff just smiled at him, and jokingly asked, “What does that mean?”


On a slightly more serious note, just before the end of the show, Jeff took a minute to acknowledge and thank Ken Stringfellow, who has been the support act on all of the European shows on this little run. Stringfellow, of Posies, Big Star and R.E.M. fame, took time during his set to thank all of the Wilco band members and crew by name for having him along. For his part, Jeff said, “We’d like to say goodbye to Ken Stringfellow. He’s such a sweet person that he knows all of our crew by name. We don’t even know all of our crew’s names. OK, that’s not true.” (Or is it? I kid, I kid.)


I’ve actually been meaning to write a few words about Ken in one of these recaps, but haven’t gotten to it yet, so anyway, I’ll just say that I thought Ken maybe played his best opening set of the tour in La Rochelle. He said his wife, whom he hadn’t seen in a couple of weeks, was in attendance, so I’m sure that re-energized him. And I think he said, in French, that he had previously spent some time during the summer in nearby Ile De Ré, which is apparently a popular holiday destination for the French. (Of special note to those folks on here who had seen earlier sets by Ken on this tour, 1) there was no female singer joining him for this set, and 2) he finally changed his shirt, albeit to a similarly patterned one but in yellow!) Anyway, Ken closed his set with a poignant electric-guitar version of Big Star’s Thirteen, which he introduced by astutely pointing out that, “every indie-rock dad tries to make this their song with their kid — I’ve heard many stories — and I’m no different.”


So those were pretty much the highlights in La Rochelle. It was nice to hear Sunken Treasure for the first time on this comeback run — hopefully it’ll turn up a little more often down the road — as well as two songs off A.M. Jeff apologized at one point for not coming to play here when that record came out and said they were trying to make up for lost time now, and later repeated his comment from Rouen about how they would be back, telling the crowd, “We’ll see you in 26 years.” Fortunately those of us lucky enough to be going to Solid Sound in a just over a week won’t have to wait nearly that long, but I do hope that Wilco will make it back to this part of the world again sooner than later. The fans here probably deserve it.


Here was the setlist, as played, in La Rochelle (both At Least That’s What You Said and Passenger Side were on the printed setlist, the former as the penultimate song of the main set and the latter in the encore, but neither were played):


You Are My Face

I Am Trying To Break Your Heart>


I'll Fight

You And I

Handshake Drugs

How To Fight Loneliness

Bull Black Nova

Laminated Cat (aka Not For The Season)

Either Way

Shouldn't Be Ashamed

Sunken Treasure (acoustic arrangement — Jeff on acoustic guitar, Pat on keyboards)

California Stars

I Must Be High


Impossible Germany

Jesus, etc.

Hate It Here


The Late Greats



Random Name Generator

Heavy Metal Drummer

I'm The Man Who Loves You

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It’s been a while of course and I would have liked one of these kind of overall retrospective setlists in September after the Schmilco heavy one last time out for me. But I suppose it will be new album heavy then so fingers crossed its a belter.

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