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Wilco — 14 September 2019, Hamburg, Germany (Elbphilharmonie [Großer Saal])

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Walking up to and into the Elbphilharmonie, the gleaming new jewel of Hamburg's harborfront revitalization project that opened in early 2017, you can't help but be bowled over by its combination of architectural elegance, accessibility and utility. It's a performing arts center, a hotel, a tourist attraction and a panoramic vista, all in one huge glass-encased, wave-shaped structure built atop an old warehouse building.


The Elbphilharmonie's main concert hall, or Großer Saal, is quite a sight unto itself. The 2,100-capacity room features a setup in which the performers are on a relatively low stage in the center with the audience seated all around and in several different tiers. Acoustically, the room is supposedly one of the most advanced in the world, with "10,000 meticulously constructed gypsum fibre panels" that reflect sound "into every corner of the Grand Hall," according to its Web site. So a concert in there should sound great, but what would a Wilco show be like?


Well, it certainly provided some opportunities for a bit of funny banter early on. When someone in the audience shouted something unintelligible out a few songs in, Jeff gently admonished him. "This is a very nice place; we don't yell like that," Jeff said. "No, you can yell if you want. We threw a piano out the window backstage, that's how rock and roll we are. Well, we thought about it. We didn't really do it."


With people seated behind him and his bandmates, which is almost never the case, Jeff did seem to make a bit of extra effort to occasionally turn and/or wave to those sitting behind. But he also joked that was likely to make him even less chatty than he had been so far on this tour. "I'd like to apologize for not talking a lot," he said. "Generally I'm not comfortable talking to an audience in front of me, and knowing there's an audience behind me means I won't be speaking the rest of the evening." Then he quipped, "I would like to apologize to everyone back there for (not being on) the Stairmaster more the last few years. I'm working on it."


Certainly the Elbphilharmonie was unique compared with most of the venues thus far on this European leg of the Ode To Joy tour in that the reserved-seat audience remained in their chairs throughout most of the show, though a few people did get up to boogie on occasion. And by the time the band launched into the show-closing The Late Greats, most people on the main level were on their feet. So I've certainly seen far worse in terms of crowd dynamics for that sort of setting.


The room was almost certainly designed with symphonic classical music in mind and the need to bring in outside sources of amplification for vocals and electric instruments I'm sure affected the acoustics somewhat. But generally, it sounded fine — if perhaps not as completely pristine as one might have expected. Nonetheless, the band seemed to be having fun with all of it.


"It feels weird to be playing rock music in here, but we're gonna keep doing it," Jeff said after capping Theologians with the big riff ending. "We've got some more big, dumb rock songs to play for you, so don't look at us weird."


One more interesting trip to Banter Corner came when Jeff expounded upon OTJ closing track An Empty Corner a bit more than I've heard him do before. Rather than introducing the song by sharing how he had once been a teenage liquor store manager whose boss left cocaine for his employees as he has usually done, Jeff said the song was about "when you dream about a real thing and how disorienting is is to wake up from a dream and realize it really happened." So, Jeff continued, that he had once woken up "wanting cocaine, but I didn't have any."


In the end, Jeff simply expressed gratitude to the sold-out crowd for choosing to come see he and his bandmates play. "What a beautiful day and a beautiful night," Jeff said. "Thanks for having us. We know there's lots of boats outside (in the harbor, which was also hosting a cruise ship festival of some sort). We know you have lots of entertainment options, so thanks for coming to see us."


Ultimately I'm not sure if I would want Wilco to become a band that only played posh concert halls, but once in a while, it's nice to see the band in a different sort of setting. And as far as symphony-type settings go, the Elbphilharmonie is a pretty tough one to beat.


Here was the complete setlist, as played (I didn't see a printed setlist, but was told that there were at least a couple of changes/omissions, including Born Alone and I'm A Wheel...see subsquent post by u2roolz):


Bright Leaves

Before Us

I Am Trying To Break Your Heart


If I Ever Was A Child

Handshake Drugs

One and a Half Stars


At Least That's What You Said

White Wooden Cross

Via Chicago

How To Fight Loneliness

Bull Black Nova


Love Is Everywhere (Beware)

Impossible Germany

Box Full Of Letters

Everyone Hides

Jesus, etc.


I'm The Man Who Loves You

An Empty Corner



Hold Me Anyway

Random Name Generator

California Stars

Ashes Of American Flags

The Late Greats

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Someone over at the FB group showed the printed setlist which had Born Alone after Bull Black Nova. It also showed I’m A Wheel as the last song after The Late Greats.

Cool, thanks for the info. Ch-ch-ch-changes! Nice to know the “script” still isn’t set in stone...B)

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