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Wilco — 25 March 2023, Chicago, IL (Riviera Theatre) [Night 2 of 3]

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Halfway through another entertaining Wilco show in Chicago, there is a small hubbub between songs at stage left. At first it appears that someone has passed out or is in need of medical assistance, but then a couple are permitted to enter the photo pit between the front barricade and the lip of the stage. Jeff announces, a bit tentatively, that he thinks the male half of the couple, "a friend of ours...has something he would like to do." It is none other than the comedian/actor Chris Kattan — former Saturday Night Live cast member known for characters such as Mr. Peepers and one of the Roxbury Guys — who apparently is set to propose to his girlfriend. Afterward, the couple stand in the pit while the band plays I'm The Man Who Loves You. Then they exit from whence they came, leaving most of the audience scratching their heads.


What, you've never heard that one before? Well, just when one thinks they've seen just about all of the random things that might possibly happen at a Wilco concert, another one springs forth to perplex and amuse. The only thing better, as someone brilliantly suggested on Twitter, would have been if the band had launched into a version of the Haddaway classic, What Is Love, which was the trademark of the Roxbury Guys sketches on SNL (and the subsequent film, A Night At The Roxbury).


Alas, there was just a return to business as usual. Which admittedly was a pretty fun second half of a 1-hour, 57-minute set that I suppose could be broken up into two parts — Before Kattan and After Kattan.


But ultimately, the incident proved to be but a mere curiosity viewed out the window as the Wilco locomotive chugged forward. It is a train that is clearly still shaking off the rust of a long winter and preparing for an extended journey ahead, as evidenced by some minor hiccups such as Jeff's lyric flub on If I Ever Was A Child (which particularly amused a few of us, since Yo La Tengo had covered it flawlessly the previous evening at Metro with Wilco in the house). During the AK times, there was also a horribly out-of-tune-sounding start to Random Name Generator and some woozy harmonies on You Never Know.


For the nerds, it was also interesting to take note of some of the guitars being used and arrangements being played on various songs. For instance, and I'm sure I'm missing stuff here, it was noticeable by this reporter that Nels didn't use the white Jerry Jones Double Neck guitar on You Never Know, which was the original song on which that behemoth was deployed in order to provide the George Harrison-esque riff; instead he simply stuck with his "standard" Jazzmaster. And Jeff didn't use the same acoustic — or at least it wasn't housed in the distinctive country-style zippered case — that he has played on Falling Apart (Right Now) throughout the touring for Cruel Country.


As far as arrangements, you figured that once the shows celebrating the 20th anniversary of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot were over, those songs would settle into some sort of equilibrium but that has seemingly varied from song to song, and sometimes even part to part. For instance, Glenn reverted to playing his little shaker part toward the beginning of IATTBYH tonight but the ending of the song did not feature the extended noise with Jeff saying "I'm the man who loves you," as on the album version. Then on Poor Places, Nels started the song on electric guitar instead of lap steel the way they used to play it before relearning the album versions and that album version, punctuated by Jeff pumping his fist at the end as the computerized "Yankee...hotel...foxtrot" bleets behind him and takes the song to its conclusion, seems to be the way the band will perform the song moving forward, at least for a while.


With the promise of no repeated songs over the course of the three shows, of course there are going to be a few deeper cuts each night. And though they might not be deep enough for some of the diehards — still, ahem, waiting for Standing O to re-emerge — it's clear that Jeff and Co. are at least trying to offer a few treats, with the promise of more if we're on our best behavior. (See what I did there? Incidentally, Jeff did award the second of who knows how many "Best Behaved" trophies to a young man who apparently reminded him of himself at a younger age. "It's like looking into a mirror," Jeff said, singling him out of the crowd.)


Country Disappeared was one of those rare and tasty treats, with Jeff noting in his introduction to the song that he couldn't remember the last time the full band had played it, especially in Chicago. That song, in particular, also highlighted the new lighting design with visual projections that sort of conjured up the feel of being inside a snow globe or something to match the wintry, melancholy tone of the song. In the encore, Can't Stand It was another song Jeff noted that the band doesn't play all that often and he explained that it was because the intro is "tricky to get into, so wish us luck." And much to the delight of at least one VCer — no sign needed — Bull Black Nova made its welcomed return to the setlist, even fooling me at first because I likely had Spiders (Kidsmoke) on the brain.


That's how it goes at these no-repeat shows, I guess. You start to guess at what has been played, what hasn't yet and what might be possible and that can lead the mind in more than one direction. Sometimes that means that the first show of a given run is actually the most suspenseful from a nerd standpoint, since theoretically everything is on the table. By the final night, you can guess at what's likely to be played based on the songs that haven't yet. But then you remember that a band such as Wilco at this stage in its career could perform as many as seven or eight shows with completely unique setlists and then your mind starts racing again...


Here was the complete setlist, as played, for Night 2 at the Riv:



Far, Far Away

I Am Trying To Break Your Heart


War On War

If I Ever Was A Child

All Across The World

Poor Places

Bull Black Nova

Country Disappeared

What Light

Too Far Apart

I'm The Man Who Loves You

Random Name Generator

Airline To Heaven

Passenger Side

Box Full Of Letters

Falling Apart (Right Now)


Via Chicago>

Many Worlds (coda only)

Can't Stand It

You Never Know

Outtasite (Outta Mind)

I'm A Wheel

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It's nice to see "You Never Know" make an appearance. Jeff always jokes about Wilco not having any hits, or about "playing the hit" (usually in reference to "Jesus etc."), but "You Never Know" is the only Wilco song to hit number one on any Billboard chart (Adult Album Alternative/Triple-A), so you'd think it would be more regularly featured. Granted, being number one on that particular chart is an example of being a big fish in a very small pond in terms of the total audience reached, but still.


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I agree, they need to do a 7-8 night stand somewhere. 

I need to know how you take these kinds of detailed notes while being pressed up at the rail. 

Thanks as always for "Being There." 

As for the Kattan thing -- Rhett Miller, when I saw him last month, said that people often propose at his show during "Question" and that at one show in Chicago, "16 couples did" and he "felt like the Rev. Sun Myung Moon." So Wilco has to step up its matrimonial game! 


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