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Wilco — 18 August 2021, Richmond, VA (Brown's Island)

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Well, that was something. On a scorching, muggy-as-all-get-out night in Richmond — one that Carrie Brownstein of Sleater-Kinney had likened to "playing on the surface of the sun," though I guess it was par for the course for mid-August in the Virginia capital — the It's Time tour stop here went from one of those outdoor events you merely tolerate and sort of secretly want to get over with to maybe the best show on the run so far. At least as far as Wilco's performance was concerned.


Now I haven't been to all of the shows on this tour — I wasn't at Red Rocks, for instance, though I did watch the live stream — so I realize that I could be speaking out of turn here when I suggest that this was the best post-pandemic performance yet by Jeff and his bandmates. But I've been to enough shows to appreciate when there is something a little extra special in the (thick, sticky, heavy) air. Part of that could have been attributed to the weather, part of it due to the somewhat unique setting and part of it just some of the unexplainable magic of live music, but whatever it was, I was glad to be in the audience for it.


Originally scheduled for the indoor (or mostly indoor?) Altria Theater, this show — like the ill-fated Kansas City show last week — was moved at the last minute to an outdoor venue due to concerns over the rising Covid cases and out of concern for the safety of the bands and crews. The new venue turned out to be one of Richmond's most popular public park spaces that sits on an island along the James River. Basically, they split the audience into three general-admission sections based on what kind of ticket you had for the original show (though there were opportunities to upgrade, and chairs were allowed at designated areas). Given the lateness of the change, it all seemed to go remarkably smoothly. The setting actually kind of reminded me a little bit of Joe's Field at Mass MoCA with a bridge as a backdrop and railroad tracks running perpendicular to the stage — and the passing trains would certainly inject themselves into the show during Wilco's set, just as they have in the past at the Solid Sound Festival.


As friend, local and old-school VCer GregRVA reminded me, this was just the fourth time Wilco had ever played in Richmond (the band did a club show back in 1995 preceded by a radio session, as well as a festival(?) in 1997 and a stop on the "Evening With..." tour at the National in 2010). That was kind of stunning to me. Accordingly, I wasn't quite prepared for all the audience love for Jeff and Co., particularly by younger folks at least some of whom, presumably, had never had a chance to see the band live before.


This is where all of us cynical message board wonks have to try and see the show through someone else's eyes when we complain about setlist variety or whatever. For instance, the young woman next to me who was obviously a big fan got most visibly excited when the band started playing...wait for it...I'm The Man Who Loves You. What does she care that that's the most-played Wilco song ever? And throughout the show, especially near the front, there were very earnest, enthusiastic shouts of love for Jeff. Before Box Full Of Letters, for instance, Jeff joked that, "I would say this is for the old-timers, but let's face it, you're all old-timers." Then he caught a glimpse of some teenage-looking boys front and center and corrected himself a bit: "Ah well, that's not totally true. We got three new fans. I'm basking in your glow."


A few songs before that, during If I Ever Was A Child, came maybe the coolest moment of the show when one train passed by on the aforementioned railroad tracks and then another heading the opposite direction also went by and even gave a little honk (or whatever it's called with trains) that led to a brief cheer from the crowd. After the song, Jeff was visibly moved putting his face in his hands — I imagine thoughts of his dad went through his mind — and after composing himself, he said, "That might be the most beautiful thing I've ever heard. Now I wish those wheels squeaking and whistles were on the record (during that song). That made me cry." Of course a song later, after another train passed by, Jeff couldn't help but poke fun at it hogging attention, quipping in part, "Stupid fucking train. You've had your moment." Ladies and gentlemen, classic Jeff Tweedy right there, conjuring memories of similar comments he made about a certain rainbow once during Solid Sound.


Musically, even though the songs were for the most part the ones the band has been playing thus far on this tour, this to me was just one of those shows where it mattered less what was played than how it was played. Exhibit A: Impossible Germany. I've tended to be of the opinion that they shouldn't necessarily play it every single night just to keep it a bit fresh, but sometimes you do catch a bit of magic for whatever reason. Nels' creativity always amazes me, how he conjures something new nearly every time even with such a spotlight trained on him, but tonight his solo was one of the best I can remember for a long time. He just flowed, even more than usual, putting together a series of chord progressions that I thought was just right. Art Of Almost was brilliant yet again, and Born Alone and I'm Always In Love also had plenty of juice.


And I haven't even mentioned the tour debut of Spiders (Kidsmoke) yet. It may or may not have been on the printed setlist, but clearly the guitar techs weren't expecting it as the encore got underway because Jeff came back out and stood there guitar-less for more than a few seconds with his cable and plug in his hand while the rest of the band started into the noise intro. Finally, Jeff went over to the side of the stage and got the guitar he needed and he and his bandmates started playing the song in earnest — and it was spectacular. Jeff even did both the clapping and the ba-ba-ba crowd singalong bits at the end. I like to think it was a little reward for an enthusiastic audience that had endured not only the extreme heat of the day but also the late venue change. I may have even lost my you know what a bit (though in fairness, the heat sort of made me lose my inhibitions more than I normally might. It was just too hot to worry about that kind of stuff, though I probably annoyed some folks around me. Sowwwwyyyy.)


I mean, as evidence of the oppressive steambath that Richmond in August apparently is, how often can you remember Jeff wearing short sleeves on stage? He had on a short-sleeved blue Hawaiian-style shirt that apparently had some sort of fish on it (after someone in the crowd asked whether it was Colonel Sanders on the shirt, Jeff said he thought it was swordfish of some sort but then got corrected by someone that it was actually marlin, which caused him to say he was worried that "the audience has turned on me because I misidentified a fish.") Maybe you had to be there. But he did say earlier that he felt like "a wringer in a wet T-shirt contest" and noted that he almost never wears short sleeves on stage and yet he was sweating much more than he usually did, so "I'm going back to my winter coat."


Whatever Jeff's attire, though, it was clear that he and his bandmates had forged a connection with a receptive and grateful, albeit very sweaty, audience. They ended up playing nearly 100 minutes, which is about 10 minutes longer than they've been able to at a few venues with hard curfews on this run. Here's hoping it won't be another decade-plus before the denizens of the River City get to enjoy another evening with Wilco (although maybe they can do it in a club with decent air conditioning next time? #JustSaying).


Here was the complete Wilco setlist, as played (didn't get a look at the printed list, so can't say if there were any omissions or changes):

A Shot In The Arm

Random Name Generator

Side With The Seeds

One And A Half Stars

I Am Trying To Break Your Heart>

Art Of Almost

If I Ever Was A Child

Impossible Germany

Love Is Everywhere (Beware)

Box Full Of Letters

Everyone Hides

Born Alone

Jesus, etc.


Heavy Metal Drummer>

I'm The Man Who Loves You

I'm Always In Love


Spiders (Kidsmoke)

California Stars


And for those who care, here was Sleater-Kinney's setlist, as played:

High In The Grass

Hurry On Home

Price Tag

Down The Line


Shadow Town

Can I Go On

Tomorrow's Grave

A New Wave

Complex Female Characters

Bring Mercy

Modern Girl

Worry With You

The Fox

One Beat>


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It was miserably hot, but you nailed the feeling of what it was like to be there.  The fact they ended exactly at 10:00 was quite impressive. Thought for sure Spiders would close things out but they clearly wanted to give us as much as they could.  Speaking of which, during that post-encore getting Jeff's guitar situated time, I really thought it sounded like they were starting Bull Black Nova for a few seconds.

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I’ve been waiting for your show recap, Paul, because my friends and I were saying that that was the best show we’ve seen Wilco play on this tour. I always wonder if it’s just because it’s the most recent show that I’m all agog but your write up confirmed that it was a really special show indeed.


One small bit of banter you didn’t mention was Jeff saying that this was the most exposure his haunches have had in a long time, I guess because his pants were also thoroughly soaked and clinging. He said “drink it up!”


I don’t remember a livelier Spiders ever, or one with more involvement and commitment by Jeff. That was a huge treat for sure. 

We came home drenched and exhausted and proud that our Capital City had inspired such an awesome show. I did get a setlist by the way, and there were no deviations during the main set, but Spiders was NOT on the setlist and the encore was printed as either California Stars or The Late Greats.

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It was a stellar performance for sure.  And the sweatiest all-around I can remember.  One unfortunate dehydrated young man next to our group on the rail collapsed during the SK set.  Once the paramedics arrived to take care of him, an nice man (in a shirt with some kind of fish on it) appeared and distributed a case of water to the crowd. :stunned 

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So I’m not sure if newbie applies to me since I have been listening to Wilco since summerteeth.  However if a concert attendance is required for the clock to start ticking then I’m green.  Last night was my first show.  So I’m newbie-ing myself.  As mentioned by OP Wilco has only played a handful of shows in RVA.  Wilco has always been on my must see list.  Same with my buddy.  We have seen so many shows together going back to the 90s in high school.  I have no idea why we never travelled to see a Wilco show.  That will change.  I have seen everyone from Del McCoury, Phish, Herbie Hancock, Paul McCartney, Mos Def (a bunch of indie hip hop), Sharon Jones, My Morning Jacket, etc.  Wilco impressed the hell out of me.  They can turn on a dime.  Take the encore for example.  To my ear spiders 🕷(kid smoke) could easily find its way on a krautrock/progressive rock type of playlist.  Then bookended by California Stars which is just a gem of an alt country/folk song.  Who can pull of that range and not sound “gimmicky.”  Very very few bands.  I tend to love songs that stretch a little and if it’s down right; improv.  I felt as if at any moment Nels could rip off a ten minute Zappa/Jeff Beck or whoever you throw out there solo.  During If Ever You were a Child you could really here the juxtaposition and synchronization of the song and that train.  It was magic and it was definitely shared with the crowd.  I was back in the 3rd GA section but I could feel the goosebumps and knew Jeff was getting emotional.  It was definitely a shared experience.  I think the interaction between the environment, crowd, and band is what separates a great live band from a good live band.  With all that in mind I could tell that it was a special night.  

I could tell that in the scheme of things this probably goes down as a decent show.  You could tell the band had another level they could reach but last night was the perfect level for the cards dealt.  I have some live Wilco from different eras so I get the context of the show.  It left me wanting to listen to Wilco more.  I will definitely travel to see Wilco soon. Here’s to many more shows!

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10 hours ago, Albert Tatlock said:


If you're going to pigeon-hole me I prefer to be labelled as tea-guzzling curmudgeon, thank you.





You tea-totalling bastard! (How was that?) :coffee

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I never reply or post. Ever. EVER...

But between Jeff handing water to the guy who passed out on the back of my legs, the trains (there were two criss-crossing) and Jeff's reaction to the trains, a very underrated Side With The Seeds, and that immense version of Spiders, I was overly thrilled at Wilco's return to my city and had to break my lurker streak here at VC. I was fully inducted into true fandom after that transformative An Evening With Wilco in 2010 and worried that the RVA could never live up to that level of amazingness. Different kind of show, tour, and evening, but it was absolutely great. And glad to see that it was appreciated by this review and most everyone in the crowd.

My local farmer was at the show...he's a cool guy who grows amazing food and said this great quote: "I just assumed that you were just a big fan, but that show was musically fantastic from the opener the encore. Totally amazing--I gotta go see Wilco again!" Right on!

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