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Wilco — 22 November 2019, St. Paul, MN (Palace Theatre) [Night 1 of 3]

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As Jeff said shortly before the end of the first of three shows at St. Paul's relatively intimate Palace Theatre, if there's any place that feels like home that isn't actually Wilco's home, it would have to be the Twin Cities. The band has been playing in the area almost since it has been a band, which would come up during the show, and there is a reason it chose to go into a long hiatus two years ago with another three-night run at the Palace.

And in sincerely thanking the nearly sold-out crowd on Night 1 — the show was considered to be almost instantly sold out, though a sign put up at the box office just before doors opened advised that limited tickets were available — Jeff said he wasn't just pandering.

"These shows always feel like hometown shows for us...so thank you very much," he said. "I'm not saying that to butter you up. We don't really like home."

To be sure, the Palace is a much-more appealing venue for the serious fan than the Chicago Theatre, where the band will play four shows in five days next month in the latest of its Winterlude residencies. With general admission standing room on the floor and a seated balcony that seems like a nice perch, the 2,500-capacity Palace is much more akin to the type of venue where Wilco plays its best shows (IMHO) than the ornate but cavernous room in which it will find itself in a few weeks. Apart from the theoretical appeal of seeing Wilco play an actual hometown show, there isn't much the Chicago venue has over this one. :turned

I suppose that's why there were more than a few out-of-towners and Wilco "regulars" up front who traveled in for this weekend's gigs. And though the band didn't deviate too much from the general outline of the set it has been playing since the release of Ode To Joy last month, those hardcore fans (as well as the locals) got a special treat in the form of a show-closing rendition of Cinnamon Girl featuring Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker of support band Low joining Jeff on vocals. In introducing Sparhawk and Parker, who along with bassist Steve Garrington, had opened the show with a dark and mesmerizing 30-minute set, Jeff said the Duluth, Minn., trio were simply "one of the greatest bands in the history of rock 'n' roll." :thumbup

Along with the Neil Young cover, I was also pleased to hear The Joke Explained again. The band has recently begun revisiting the Star Wars cut and with Jeff adopting his best Dylanesque nasal phrasing at one point, there was probably no better place than Minnesota for it to be performed. Meanwhile, the other Star Wars tune in the set — Random Name Generator — also seemed to resonate quite well with the audience from a rock perspective. :rock

With the usual eight of 11 OTJ tracks that Wilco has been featuring on a nightly basis as well as "standards" like Impossible Germany and I'm The Man Who Loves You, the general foundation for the roughly 2-hour, 15-minute set is fairly well set. And Jeff cautioned against expecting a huge amount of variety over the next two shows — "How many of you are coming to the next nights (of shows)? I hope you enjoy this set because that's what we're playing. Well, most of it," he said — but of course there will be some swapouts. I would expect I Am Trying To Break Your Heart, Laminated Cat, How To Fight Loneliness, Dawned On Me, Heavy Metal Drummer and some variant of the "rock songs, etc." encore to make an appearance over the next couple of nights.

Of course there are plenty more songs Wilco could play considering its 25-year history as a live-performance entity, the anniversary of which was recently celebrated in Kansas City. ("John and I are still here," Jeff said, drawing a nice round of applause.) Jeff noted that this was almost the exact 25th anniversary of the band's first-ever Twin Cities show — on Nov. 21, 1994 at the 7th Street Entry, for the record. "We played in Minneapolis (that time); we finally got it right," Jeff said, drawing a smattering of boos. "Oh, I didn't realize there was such a rivalry. We're trying to bring you together."

One brief guitar nerd note to interject: Nels finally debuted one of his newest acquisitions on a few songs at the end of the main set. It's a beautiful black custom model made by Bilt Guitars that features lyrics from the Sonic Youth song Tom Violence (from the inner sleeve of EVOL). But I'm pretty sure the reason he broke it out was that the guitar features a bridge made by Mastery Bridge and its guitar guru John "Woody" Woodland, a Minneapolis resident who I'm sure was at the show tonight. A nice close-up image of it can be seen here. Anyway, it was neat to finally see it make its on-stage debut. :guitar

Not long after, Night 1 of this St. Paul run was in the books. It's a residency that I feel like could have some staying power in the years to come. The band seems comfortable, the crowd was for the most part excellent and there's just a good vibe overall. And as Jeff said, that is not something to take for granted.

"We've done some weird shows on this tour," he said. "This feels good." :yes

Here was the complete setlist, as played, for Night 1 (I didn't get a look at the printed list, but was told that Cinnamon Girl wasn't on it; not sure if there were any other changes):

Bright Leaves
Before Us
Company In My Back
War On War
Handshake Drugs
Side With The Seeds
One and a Half Stars
The Joke Explained
White Wooden Cross
Via Chicago
Bull Black Nova
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 Always In Love
I'm The Man Who Loves You
Hold Me Anyway
California Stars
The Late Greats
Cinnamon Girl [Neil Young] (w/Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker of Low on vocals)

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I want to say that was the best Wilco show I've seen but I'm definitely guilty of saying that immediately after every Wilco show I go to. Unless the band is consistently just slightly one upping themselves night after night?!

Not much to report that bbop didn't. The band seemed to be in great spirits and really enjoying themselves. Did anyone notice the looks Pat and Mike were giving each other during Theologians? One of them might have messed up (though it all sounded great to me) because there was definitely some "wait, what did you just do?" looks followed by some laughs.

Low's opening set was pretty great. Though I was a little disappointed to hear that amount of talking I that I did. But I guess it's a Friday night show and some of their songs are pretty quiet.

So far I'm pretty glad I made the journey down. The Saint Paul crowd really knew their Wilco and was quite enthusiastic.

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