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Wilco — 26 October 2019, Austin, TX (ACL Live at the Moody Theater) [Night 1 of 2]

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After a “pretty weird” last few days in Texas, it must have been nice for the Wilco band and crew to wrap up this leg of the Ode To Joy tour in one of their homes away from home — Austin — where they have played as many shows over the years as anywhere outside of Chicago, New York and San Francisco. And, more importantly, where they knew they would be performing in a relatively familiar venue with mostly their kind of crowd behind them.


ACL Live at the Moody Theater is probably the ideal type of venue for a band like Wilco, not overly cavernous, with general admission standing room on the floor and two levels of reserved-seating balconies. (It has a total capacity of about 2,750, with about 1,200 on the floor.) Of course it’s not Stubb’s BBQ across town, which has really been one of the band’s true homes away from home in recent years, but in terms of an indoor setting that can accommodate both people who want to stand and people who want to sit, the Moody isn’t a bad alternative.


Not that things went off without a hitch at the start. First Nels had some minor pedal issues at the start of War On War and then Jeff had some sort of problem with his guitar plug during the song that caused his instrument to make some wonky sounds. “So far everything is going exactly as we planned,” Jeff said sarcastically. Another sardonic comment came after If I Ever Was A Child: “That’s a song we had no idea anyone liked until our new record came out. It was nice to discover that.”


Relatively early in what eventually proved to be a 30-song set — the most on the tour so far — another highlight was the return of support act Molly Sarlé to duet with Jeff on You And I. After debuting the collaboration during the encore in Houston the previous night, Jeff and Molly seemed more comfortable singing together and Molly lent her unique vocal talents to the ballad from Wilco (The Album).


One question about this show, after set times were posted on the band’s social media platforms earlier in the day, was just how long Jeff and Co. would get to play. Their set time was listed as 8:30-10:30 p.m., but since their recent sets have been averaging about 2 hours, 15 minutes, there was some question about whether they would be under a curfew crunch. Usually when that is the case, Jeff doesn’t chat too much and the band sort of plows through its set.


While Jeff — who was strikingly completely clean shaven, in preparation for a performance during next week's Obama Summit — wasn’t exactly effusive, he did have more than a few random bits of banter throughout. Such as when he talked about being in Texas this week and how the audience in Irving came up with a “Wilco Wednesday” concept before segueing into White Wooden Cross by saying, “Anyway, here’s a song about dying.” Such as when he joked about Nels’ double-neck guitar on Dawned On Me by quipping, “He just leveled up.” Or such as when Jeff used the line he has been using to introduce Hold Me Anyway — “We wrote a song just for this occasion” — only to have someone in the crowd call him a liar. After mock bristling for a second, Jeff retorted, “It is a song for this occasion…because it’s for all occasions.”


But probably the funniest single visit to Banter Corner came between Dawned On Me and Box Full Of Letters when someone made an ill-timed request for Remember The Mountain Bed. Jeff couldn’t let that one go unanswered, shooting back, “Mountain Bed? I’m glad you didn’t write the setlist. I hate to stone you like that, but surely you’ve never put together a two-hour set.” Continued Jeff: “I put this set together for you. Glenn’s so excited (about it) he wants to start every song before it starts.”


Glenn might have gotten some good-natured grief from Jeff, and of course his unique percussion is what drives the Ode To Joy songs in particular (and incidentally, this was just the second time that all nine of the OTJ songs that have been performed live so far were all played in one show). But this first night in Austin really belonged to Nels, who was really on fire throughout. He put on a shredding clinic during We Were Lucky, really fulfilling that song’s raison d’etre as, well, a shredding vehicle for him. He put together a note pattern during his Impossible Germany solo that I definitely haven’t heard before, which is amazing given how often Wilco plays it. He played guitar hero on Dawned On Me. And using his new red Novo guitar, which he seems to be using on more songs every show, Nels added some beautiful lines on Hold Me Anyway, among other songs.


By the time the band walked off the stage at 10:26 p.m., following its fake encore of Hold Me Anyway and The Late Greats, it really was a question whether they would — or could — come back. But fortunately for us, they did return for a five-song encore that they almost seemed to be figuring out on the spot. They went with the fully rocking conclusion, with Jeff even singing the original lyric on Red-Eyed and Blue (“…and some drugs/We can afford on the way,” instead of “…We can’t afford not to take,” as he usually changes them to).


It was just the first half of what promised to be another memorable stand in Austin, rightfully showcasing the new record. But unlike so many of the one-and-done OTJ shows on these early tour legs, there was the anticipation of a Night 2 to sustain the faithful (and it was nice to see so many familiar faces make it down for these always-special gigs).

Here was the complete setlist for Night 1, as played (didn't get a look at the printed list myself, but apparently Outtasite (Outta Mind) replaced Misunderstood in the encore):

Bright Leaves
Before Us
Company In My Back
War On War
One and a Half Stars
If I Ever Was A Child
Handshake Drugs
At Least That's What You Said
You And I (w/Molly Sarlé on vocals)
White Wooden Cross
Via Chicago
Bull Black Nova
Random Name Generator
We Were Lucky
Love Is Everywhere (Beware)
Impossible Germany
Dawned On Me
Box Full Of Letters
Everyone Hides
I'm The Man Who Loves You
Hold Me Anyway
The Late Greats
An Empty Corner
California Stars
Red-Eyed and Blue>
I Got You (At The End of the Century)>
Outtasite (Outta Mind)

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I agree best show I’ve seen since night one of the Ace Hotel Los Angeles run a few years ago. Random Name Generator has gotten positively rocking!! If I ever was a child has also developed into a strong live song . I think they sometimes take awhile for the live arrangements to fully develop. Even the new songs were tight and solid as well as nuanced, exactly what I was hoping for after being underwhelmed with the studio versions. When Wilco are inspired and locked in sync, they are in a class by themselves and when they play their Rolling Stones-style rock they are the greatest! Lighting is spectacular too, what a fantastic show!!

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