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Wilco — 19 November 2019, Denver, CO (Mission Ballroom)

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Well, all I can say is Jeff must have had a decent enough time at Denver’s relatively new Mission Ballroom to cause him to adopt the “hot take” that he actually preferred playing at the clubish space over the much-beloved physical marvel that is the nearby Red Rocks Amphitheatre. Gasp, went the crowd, and the local alt-weekly Westword actually made Jeff’s statement the headline of its review of the show.


This all came after Jeff had said virtually nothing for the first half of the show, and I’m sure he probably delighted in stirring the pot a little bit — no pun intended. (Not to mention, he almost certainly didn’t have a pre-show altercation with an aggro stoner bro and his shrewish lady friend who accused me and some other people of cutting them in line.)


“I prefer this to Red Rocks, actually,” Jeff offered toward the end of the main set. “Red Rocks is good and all, but I feel you guys. I can feel you. (Also), I don’t like being outside. We played in a snowstorm there one time. Fuck that shit! No rock band should have to play in a snowstorm, and we’ve played in several. It’s true.”


Truth be told, the new Mission venue is probably one that is well suited for a band like Wilco. It holds just shy of 4,000 with standing room on the floor and stadium seating around it, as well as boasting a pretty impressive disco ball. To me, it resembles many of the new flexible-capacity and multi-configuration venues being built around the country like the Anthem in Washington, D.C. So here’s hoping that we haven’t seen the last of Wilco at Red Rocks, but don’t be surprised if this becomes the local go-to stop for the band when it passes through in the future.


Perhaps the only complaints I had about the Mission were that it’s a bit devoid of character inside, which could be attributed to its newness, but also that it has that sort of dead-air feel reminiscent of a concrete venue like the Revention Music Center (or whatever they’re calling it these days) in Houston. The music sounds pretty good coming out of the PA, but the audience reaction was just a bit muted to my ears — like someone threw a blanket over the whole thing or something.


At any rate, Jeff’s lack of chatter in the first half of the show allowed for the audience’s attention to be properly focused on the music. And we got the NovaCat tandem, which is always welcome and brings the intensity of the show to one of its peaks, especially with the visuals projected on the screens behind the band helping to bring things into a psychedelic realm. Another two-fer that has been a highlight of these North American Ode To Joy shows followed shortly thereafter in the form of We Were Lucky and Love Is Everywhere (Beware), which both give Nels and Glenn a chance to show off their versatile talents.


“I feel like we’ve frayed the space-time continuum a little bit,” Jeff said after LIE. “Maybe I’m just getting a contact high from you guys.” Then he apologized for not having said very much to that point, explaining that he figured people were already pretty familiar with the songs and didn’t need him to introduce them. “Plus, I sound like a stupid asshole when I talk,” Jeff continued, with Glenn snickering behind him. “Glenn’s soooo supportive. Oh, maybe I should tell a story…”


Glenn pretty much precluded that from happening, though, by starting the next song. But it was pretty evident that Jeff’s chat floodgates had opened up, at least a bit. For instance, before Box Full Of Letters, he took the opportunity to note that Wilco was a band that had been performing live for 25 years and two days. “Two days!” Jeff marveled at the recent 25th anniversary of the band’s first-ever show. “It must be really exciting for you to be here on such an amazing occasion. This is a song from 25 years and two days ago.”


During the fake encore bit a few songs later, Jeff joked that the “rules have changed but the players have stayed the same,” and the band was “turning show biz on its head.” Finally, when the band took its real encore break and came back with California Stars (instead of Misunderstood, it should be noted) to start, Jeff informed the audience members that he wouldn’t be pandering to them by changing the lyrics to “Colorado Stars” as he might have done in the past.


“It occurs to me every time we play here that maybe I’ve done that in the past, and I feel ashamed if I have,” Jeff admitted. “But just so you know…don’t wait for it. It’s not going to happen.”


What did happen was the band put a bow on the evening by bringing the proverbial rock with the tried-and-true Red-Eyed and Blue>I Got You (At The End of the Century)>Outtasite (Outta Mind) finale and sent the crowd home with a sense of fulfillment. I was impressed by how many people seemed to have flocked to this show from all over the West; personally I heard people talking around me who had come from Montana, New Mexico and even Manitoba, Canada, among other places.


Maybe to compare the Mission Ballroom to Red Rocks is folly, and I’m sure Jeff made the comment with tongue at least partially in cheek, but for a band like Wilco that thrives off of connecting with an audience, it’s not a total stretch to say that a venue such as this could be just as likely to generate a great performance as that other, more hallowed one down the road.


Here was the complete setlist, as played (in terms of setlist adjustments, Misunderstood was actually listed as the first song of the encore on the printed list but wasn't played, while Outtasite (Outta Mind) wasn't listed but was added):

Bright Leaves
Before Us
Company In My Back
War On War
Handshake Drugs
At Least That's What You Said
One and a Half Stars
Via Chicago
White Wooden Cross
Bull Black Nova
Laminated Cat (aka Not For The Season)
Random Name Generator
Impossible Germany
Jesus, etc.
We Were Lucky
Love Is Everywhere (Beware)
Forget The Flowers
Box Full Of Letters
Everyone Hides
I'm The Man Who Loves You
Hold Me Anyway
The Late Greats
California Stars
Red-Eyed and Blue>
I Got You (At The End of the Century)>
Outtasite (Outta Mind)

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That was life-affirming and awesome. I'll echo what people have been saying on this tour: these guys are on fire.


A couple randome observations:


War on War is sounding especially good. The crescendo at the end was so perfect thanks in part to Mr. Kotche's musicality. I couldn't resist the urge to point at Pat to my buddy while he was doing some excellent glockenspiel work with one hand while playing the organ with the other.


While I've seen the similar setlists posted here, as Jeff would emphatically point out, reading a setlist and being in the room for it are two totally different things. There's kind of a main course with Wilco where they pace things, put in the subtle stuff, play with the arc of the energy, and then there's the dessert; the rock block. During that first half of the set I felt like they were playing with their characteristic extremes more than ever veering from incredibly controlled and understated Ode to Joy material to Jeff and Nels guitar demolition. Never was this more apparent than the incredibly contained White Wooden Cross, into the unhinged Nova Cat duo.


At this point for any longtime Wilco fan it would be easy to dismiss Impossible Germany purely out of its consistent inclusion in their setlists in the decade + since they've written it. Somehow it still makes for a special moment every time thanks almost entirely to Nels. I can't imagine how many times he's performed that solo in front of people for what has come to be his predictable moment (among others) in the set. Nonetheless he seems to be actively engaged in exploring the possibilities of it, and always comes up with something new to say within that familiar progression. Very inspiring,


My buddy is also a longtime Wilco fan, but unlike me an Ode to Joy skeptic. He mentioned halfway through that he thought those songs were coming alive for him, and that he was surprised how much he was enjoying them live. I did notice a lot more trips to the bar and the bathroom from crowd members during One and a Half Stars and White Wooden Cross.... their loss.

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Agree - War On War is not one of my top Wilco faves, but I absolutely loved how they played it last night. The whole show was fantastic. “Life-affirming” is an excellent way to describe it.


Also, I’d love to give a shout out to the fans. I was visiting from out of town and at show by myself, but ended up chatting with a few people here and there. Everyone was lovely, everyone in the pit was well-behaved and really into the show....it was just an all around awesome night.

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Mention of 'giant disco ball' made Disco Duck pop into my head. Now I can't get rid of it. It's going to be one of those days ...


Did you ever get it out? Do tell. Anyway, I finally posted my full recap above and I'm sure only you and a couple others will care at this point (but the disco ball mention stayed in!) :dancing

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Did you ever get it out? Do tell. Anyway, I finally posted my full recap above and I'm sure only you and a couple others will care at this point (but the disco ball mention stayed in!) :dancing

Well, I had shaken it out of my mind until you brought it back up again. Doh! Still, there are worse big hit songs out there. 

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