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Wilco — 10 September 2021, Milwaukee, WI (Henry Maier Festival Park) [Summerfest - Day 5 of 9]

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There are few things more quintessentially Midwestern, probably, than a day and night spent at Summerfest in Milwaukee. I don't think I fully appreciated it the first few times I went, but where else can you get a combination of state fair, music festival and Oktoberfest, all contained within a lovely setting on the shores of Lake Michigan? When the weather is super nice, the bass is positively thumping and you've got a basket of fried cheese curds and dish of blue moon ice cream in your hands, well, let's just say that for some people, this is about as close as it gets to heaven.


(Not to mention the fact that if you play your cards right, you can get in for a few boxes of tampons or a small collection of shampoos, conditioners and lotions and then somehow win a putt-putt mini-golf contest for passes that will get you and your companion front-row access in the VIP pit section and several free drinks each, but that's another story. ;) )


After all that, who even needs to see a quintessentially Midwestern band play a 90-minute set of some of their greatest hits, right? Nah. Despite enduring the Zac Brown Band hordes headed to the biggest stage to see the day's headliners, more than a few of us planted ourselves at the Miller Lite Oasis stage to see Wilco make its long-awaited return to Summerfest. It's almost hard to believe that after the band had played a Summerfest gig five times between 1996 and 2006, including one briefly documented in the I Am Trying To Break Your Heart documentary, this was the first time Jeff and Co. had been back in 15 years.


The good news was that, in some ways, it was as if barely any time had passed since the last time the band had performed at the Henry Maier Festival Park. Jeff and his bandmates made the most of their 90-minute time slot, deciding spontaneously to not even leave the stage for an encore break after I'm Always In Love, though Jeff said (as he usually does) that marked the end of their regular set. We didn't even get some of the usual antics that were part of the recently concluded It's Time tour with Sleater-Kinney and Nnamdi, such as the "The End"-style prelude to Heavy Metal Drummer. But instead, Jeff simply appeared to be soaking in the good vibes from a beautiful evening and a joyous audience that was undoubtedly also indulging in some, er, chemical substances (and I don't mean the blue moon ice cream).


"It's so lovely to be here with you," Jeff said at one point late in the show. "People are kissing, people are smiling, people are drinking. I smell weed, I think." After being told that the latter was still technically illegal in relatively conservative Wisconsin, Jeff proclaimed that to be "bullshit," and then made a joke about possibly getting arrested due to the crowd's cannabis consumption.


Of course, with those sorts of shenanigans, plus the general setup of the venue, you also get a sense of being in a carnival-like atmosphere of which whatever you happen to be seeing/watching/doing is just one small part. So, for example, you often hear sound bleeding over from other stages — there are at least 10 music stages, as well as other exhibitions such as sports-related demonstrations, going on simultaneously — and just the sounds of other activities going on constantly.


Jeff even joked about it a couple of times, at one point looking in the direction of the next stage over, hearing the thumping emanating from it and saying, "We're gonna play a waltz against that." A few songs later, before playing one of the quietest songs in their set (If I Ever Was A Child), he said that they really should have coordinated their ballads with the act playing on the next stage. Then again, given the power of the sound system on their own stage — which those of us toward the front felt in our chests in a punishing way during most of previous act Trapper Schoepp's set as well as, for example, during the down beats on Art Of Almost — maybe the other stages were hearing some of the bass thump from the Miller Lite Oasis stage as well. There's nothing else that makes you feel like you're at a giant music festival more than, I suppose, enduring the massive reverberations from competing stacks of subwoofers.


Anyway, other visits to Banter Corner included a bit where Jeff mentioned looking out and seeing these "flame things" suspended above the audience that reminded him of the torch-like devices that Bob Dylan had used as part of his stage design when the two toured together. "We can't afford something like that," Jeff quipped, looking over at Pat, who nodded in agreement. And late in the set, Jeff also acknowledged in a way, the imminent 20th anniversary of 9/11 (and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, in a way) when he noted prior to Heavy Metal Drummer that it was a song off an album that "was originally supposed to come out 20 years ago tomorrow," but obviously didn't and then came out seven days later for free on the Internet.


I could go on about more of the festival food (have I mentioned blue moon ice cream?) or the ski lift-like Sky Glider tram that you can ride over most the festival grounds (underrated!) or the ridiculousness of winning a VIP wristband via a mini-golf putting contest (you could play as many times as you wanted until you "won," lol), but I think you probably get the idea about Summerfest. It was nice to see more than a few familiar faces come out, and certainly it was a memorable day in more ways than one.


Here was the complete setlist, as played (didn't see a printed list, so can't say if there were any changes/omissions):


A Shot In The Arm

Random Name Generator

At Least That's What You Said

One Wing

Love Is Everywhere (Beware)

I Am Trying To Break Your Heart>

Art Of Almost

If I Ever Was A Child

Impossible Germany


Everyone Hides

Box Full Of Letters

Dawned On Me

Jesus, etc.


Heavy Metal Drummer

I'm The Man Who Loves You

I'm Always In Love

The Late Greats

California Stars

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Fun show, I was pleasantly surprised at how spacious summerfest was, and the level up area was fantastic.  Still a little disappointed at the lack of variety in the setlist, even though I kind of figured that would be the case.  Very curious to see what the full show fall tour brings on that front.

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