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Wilco — 14 November 2019, St. Louis, MO (Fabulous Fox Theatre)

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When chronicling the musical history of Wilco and the people who have directly influenced/collaborated with/befriended Jeff over the years, of course the two Jays — Farrar and Bennett — dominate the conversation. But fewer people mention Brian Henneman, who was an early sounding board for Jeff’s songwriting as well as a friend, touring companion and likely drinking buddy (at least until Jeff quit) during the Uncle Tupelo days.


And of course, after UT broke up, Henneman wound up playing lead guitar on A.M., even while his own band the Bottle Rockets was beginning to establish itself (and would soon sign with Atlantic Records).


So it really must have felt like things had come full circle tonight for both men when their respective bands once again shared a bill approximately a quarter century after first doing so in much humbler settings like the now-defunct St. Louis basement dive Cicero’s, where Wilco played its first-ever show in 1994. (This Sunday — as in three days from now — will mark the exact 25th anniversary of that debut show when the band played Cicero’s as “Black Shampoo” on November 17, 1994. Whoa! :o )


“St. Louis…I’m back! You can’t get rid of me,” Jeff proclaimed four songs into Wilco’s set. “It’s so much fun being back and getting to see Brian again and playing with the Bottle Rockets. They always ask who your influences are … and by some cosmic accident, I grew up writing songs next to Brian, a true master who I learned so much from.”


Of course Jeff later joked before bringing Henneman and his longtime bandmate, drummer Mark Ortmann, out for a short but fun encore that “(Brian) didn’t even hear the nice shit I said about him.” It would have been a letdown if there wasn’t at least one shared moment on stage for the old friends, however, and thankfully they didn’t disappoint with Henneman and Ortmann joining Wilco on electric guitar and percussion, respectively, on both California Stars and the show-closing Casino Queen. :thumbup


The latter, which Jeff reiterated was his late father’s favorite song, might be a bit ho-hum for St. Louis audiences at this point since it has likely been played at virtually every area show ever, but since this is basically the only place it seems to get played anymore, it was certainly a treat for us non-locals. And it was interesting to see Jeff, who was on acoustic guitar, eschew the clapping part so that Henneman and Nels could jam just a little longer on the electric side. :rock


Other staples of Wilco’s current live show that must have generated some memories included Box Full Of Letters, which Jeff dedicated to the Bottle Rockets and on which Pat put a little extra oomph into reprising Henneman’s (?) original part from the record. And Heavy Metal Drummer, which Jeff introduced by quipping, “If I can’t get you to sing along here to a song about here, I’m just gonna lose all hope.”


And I’m sure at least one guy will be thrilled to know that the NovaCat — the Bull Black Nova and Laminated Cat two-fer — was in full effect again tonight. There was a smooth segue between the two songs, and the latter was once again tweaked with the frenzied mid-section leading to a point where you could just hear the feedback from Jeff’s whammy bar paired with the low rumble of Glenn and John’s rhythm section. But just when you thought the band might fade it out as it has been doing recently, Jeff instead brought the song to a distinct, if not overly emphatic, conclusion with one final chord.


Not that the show was all about nostalgia by any means, not with the usual eight songs from Ode To Joy. I did wonder if it crossed Jeff’s mind at any point while coming up with the setlist that it’s sort of frustrating not to even be able to fit a song like An Empty Corner into the show, a song that after all does describe some of Jeff’s memories of working in an area liquor store as a young man. I mean, on one hand, isn’t being able to play those kinds of subtler songs one of the reasons the band is playing theater-type venues on this tour?


Then again, perhaps it was better that the second half of the show pretty much focused on more upbeat material. I wouldn’t say it was an amazing audience anyway at the Fabulous Fox, which is sort of par for the course for this venue, but the energy definitely seemed to flag most during the OTJ tunes. For the most part, people on the floor level stood throughout but there definitely was some sitting happening around me during the new songs. (I won’t even mention the couple next to me who arrived about five songs into the show, each ducked out a couple of times for drink runs and/or bathroom breaks and then abruptly took off at the apex of Misunderstood. What’s the point? :headbonk )


At least generally speaking it wasn't a crowd that “came to see the Nutcracker,” as Jeff had mentioned earlier when talking about the beautiful confines of the 4,500-capacity Fabulous Fox. He had made the point that often people “get intimidated” by such a venue, but that he could tell this crowd wasn’t here to see the classic Christmas show, which was a good thing because that wasn’t going to happen.


I suppose Henneman and his bandmates had set the tone during their excellent 40-minute opening set, which included classics such as Indianapolis and 1000 Dollar Car as well as songs off their most recent record such as Highway 70 Blues and Stovall’s Grove. As Henneman said at one point, the Fox was “just like Cicero’s basement with a lot more head room.” He also noted that the Bottle Rockets had actually played at the Fox once before opening for John Fogerty in 1997, joking that meant the next time he would play the room would be when he was 80 years old. Here’s hoping that it won’t take nearly that long to get Wilco and the Bottle Rockets on another bill together again... :pray


For now, here was Wilco's complete setlist as played (there were no changes from the printed list):


Bright Leaves

Before Us

I Am Trying To Break Your Heart

War On War

Handshake Drugs

Side With The Seeds

One and a Half Stars


White Wooden Cross

Via Chicago

How To Fight Loneliness

Bull Black Nova

Laminated Cat (aka Not For The Season)

Random Name Generator


Impossible Germany

Jesus, etc.

We Were Lucky

Love Is Everywhere (Beware)

Box Full Of Letters

Everyone Hides

I'm Always In Love

Heavy Metal Drummer

I'm The Man Who Loves You

Hold Me Anyway



California Stars (w/Brian Henneman and Mark Ortmann of the Bottle Rockets on electric guitar and tambourine, respectively)

Casino Queen (w/Henneman on electric guitar and backing vocals and Ortmann on percussion)

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One interesting thing to note that was a little unusual, Jeff was having a little bit of trouble with his acoustic guitar cable throughout the night, not sure if anybody else heard it, but it was kinda buzzy several times, and he had to have Matrix fix it a couple times. Kinda sounded like the connection was going out a bit.


Also, during Misunderstood, I thought it was awesome they had a matching chorus-ey effect on Jeff’s guitar and vocals. It sounded more like the original recording (ps- I counted 32 nothing’s).


Definite highlight was Casino Queen watching Nels and Brian switch off leads was so great!


Also, is there anything better than Nova > Cat?? I danced so hard I almost fell over!!


So sad this was our last show for a long time, but dang the memories will be there forever. ❤️

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Thanks for the reports! One of my favorite bits of Wilco lore concerns the recording of Casino Queen (as told by Greg Kot in Learning to Die). If I remember correctly, Brian Henneman was meant to play guitar on the song, but he was in the throes of a mighty hangover. Instead he sat in the corner of the studio clinking a gin bottle or two -- perhaps the ones that led to said hangover -- a clinking you can can hear on the recording.


Thousand Dollar Car was a staple of college singalongs, and hearing that song always brings me back. Must've been great to see Jeff and Brian back in the old neighborhood last night.

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