bböp Posted September 10, 2022 Share Posted September 10, 2022 Oh boy, I so don't have the time or energy to write about this one right now...but I feel as though I must contribute at least a little something about probably the best show I've seen by Wilco on its current run of tour dates in support of Cruel Country. Certainly, I think the best performance by the band I've seen stateside thus far (although, full disclosure: I have missed a few. Contrary to popular belief, I don't actually make it to every show...gasp.) Two and a half years ago, in March 2020, Jeff and his bandmates played one of their last shows before the world shut down at Madison's The Sylvee, a newish 2,500-capacity venue that feels pretty intimate despite a wide concrete floor area, a relatively high stage and a couple of balconies. And finally, just before the 21st anniversary of another traumatic event in our nation's history, the band returned with a new record under its belt and a seemingly renewed vigor. "We're back," Jeff announced six songs into the set, in his first comments of the evening. He proceeded to inquire how many people had attended the pre-pandemic show and whether this was the first live concert back for anyone since then. I didn't see too many affirmative replies, but in any case there were numerous familiar faces in the front row who made this gig feel like a gathering of old friends. (Apparently even those a little farther back in the crowd felt comfortable enough with Jeff and Co. to submit a song request or two via the utterly modern method of writing it out on their phones and holding them up. I didn't see this myself, but clearly Jeff saw it — it was, I was told, a request for Pot Kettle Black — and felt compelled to at least shoot down the request nicely. "We're not going to play it tonight, but thanks for knowing the names of our songs. ... We'll be back in three years to play it for you. Maybe you'll be working on your advanced degree by then.") Outside of Chicago, Madison — and Wisconsin, in general — is almost unquestionably a Wilco stronghold. The band has played in town so many times over the years that, as with places such as Austin, Texas, or the Bay Area, it feels like it can do no wrong there. But if flattery will get you everywhere, Jeff nevertheless took time out to compliment the audience about halfway through the show by using his classic line about how he doesn't like most audiences but that this one "seems great." Yet he also took a moment to make the point that it could be even better if everyone participated in, for example, clapping their hands over their heads like he had tried to get people to do a song earlier during Hummingbird. Jeff acknowledged that he fully understood that if everyone in the audience was like him and felt very excited on the inside but barely showed it on the outside, that it would be the worst audience ever. (He didn't say this, but I mean, he wrote a song about exactly this; see: Low Key.) So from the "do as I say, not as I do" department, Jeff nevertheless tried to encourage crowd participation by remarking that one's mindset should be that "I'm not gonna go to my deathbed thinking I didn't clap my hands over my head in Madison. I'm gonna be happy I fucking lived." It would pay off as the main set drew to a close with a pulsating version of Spiders (Kidsmoke), which itself followed a joyous rendition of I'm Always In Love. Personally, I'm a sucker for the Krautrock arrangement of Spiders. I admit I'm always a little surprised to learn when some people apparently don't like it as much. But however you feel about it, the ending is a chance for the audience to take Jeff up on his suggestion of embracing the spirit of a rock show. I'm paraphrasing here, but he urged people to grab hold of the spirit the band had tried to bring and to not let go of it as the band gradually fell away from playing the song and everything focused on a unified clap. As if that wasn't enough, with the show already at the 2-hour mark, the band came out for a three-song encore capped off by a frenetic Kicking Television. It's great, IMHO, that Jeff and Co. have resurrected the rarely performed A Ghost Is Born-era B-side in recent weeks, and after missing its debut in New Haven back in late August, I was psyched that it was back on the setlist for at least one more night. There were plenty of other highlights, so I'm sure I'll miss something, but one other quick visit to Banter Corner worth noting came before Hearts Hard To Find, when Jeff clarified that the first line of the song — "I don't mind, when certain people die," — had "nothing to do with current events." And for as often as I've thought to myself, "Do they really have to play Impossible Germany every single night?" sometimes it comes together and can still take your breath away. Sure, there's nits to pick such as the arrangement on California Stars — whither banjitar? — but I'd say in general the band seems to really be settling into the Cruel Country material and integrating it with older tunes. Would it be nice to see a little more variety in the sets, even as far as songs from CC or some twangier older songs (Someday Soon, anyone)? Sure, but as long as you get an outing like we did tonight, Wilco could probably play just about anything and people would walk away happy — and maybe even a little pleasantly sweaty. Here was the complete setlist as played (there were no changes/omissions from the printed setlist): Handshake Drugs I Am My Mother Cruel Country I Am Trying To Break Your Heart Hints War On War If I Ever Was A Child Via Chicago> Many Worlds (coda only) At Least That's What You Said Story To Tell Hummingbird Bird Without A Tail/Base Of My Skull Hearts Hard To Find Jesus, etc. Impossible Germany Love Is Everywhere (Beware) California Stars A Lifetime To Find I'm Always In Love Spiders (Kidsmoke) ----------------------------------------------- Falling Apart (Right Now) I Got You (At The End Of The Century) Kicking Television 6 1 Quote Link to post Share on other sites
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