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Wilco — 26 March 2023, Chicago, IL (Riviera Theatre) [Night 3 of 3]

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Has a beloved rock 'n' roll band ever been loudly booed off the stage in its hometown and possibly even kind of enjoyed it? And then come back for an encore? Well, it happened on a Sunday night in Chicago on the third and final night of Wilco's three-night residency that kicked off the sextet's touring calendar for 2023.


In the end, no musicians (we think) were harmed by the loudly vocalized, false displeasure Jeff brought upon himself and his bandmates just before the end of their main set. It started when he suggested that perhaps Wilco and its audience could sing one final song together before bringing the evening to a close. Of course, the suggestion that the end of the show was nigh brought with it the usual gentle protests from various quarters of the crowd. But instead of ignoring the protests or dismissing them, as most performers do, Jeff decided to encourage the behavior. It's a bit he has sometimes used in his solo acoustic and solo band shows in recent years, but this might have been one of the first times he did it at a Wilco gig. And he really leaned into it, inviting a hail of boos to descend upon the stage from all around the venerable old theater.


Before the band finally played Jesus, etc., Jeff continued to egg the audience on with a jokey mini-rant about how audible booing was more honest than taking to Twitter to express displeasure, or something like that. "Don't hide behind your fucking phone," he quipped, adding that the sound of the booing "fills me up." Though the audience quickly fell in line for the singalong, more disingenuous boos came afterward and it was kind of funny to watch some of the other band members' faces as they awkwardly tried to give their goodbye waves and thank yous and leave the stage.


When the band returned not long after, it seemed like Jeff might have changed his tune a bit. "I don't think we should do that anymore," he said. "We're too sensitive for that. It's a good sound, though." That kicked off a four-song encore, punctuated by a fiery and urgent A Shot In The Arm and a moving On And On And On, that restored some order to this musical universe.


It was a universe that, prior to Boolapalooza, had featured quite a few songs that the band seemingly hasn't played very often of late (as you might have expected for a run of shows promised to feature no repeated songs). Though they weren't necessarily at the furthest end of the deep-cut spectrum — Hell Is Chrome, I'm looking at you — songs such as I'll Fight, One And A Half Stars and Mystery Binds aren't ones you could necessarily expect to hear at every Wilco show in 2023. The latter, from Cruel Country, is probably destined to be the deep cut off that record that people will be clamoring for a decade from now.


Meanwhile, it was fun to see Jeff and his bandmates continue to tinker with different arrangements and tempos on some familiar favorites. On Spiders (Kidsmoke) for instance, which came unusually early in the set, they performed what I call the "double time" version that features a quicker-than-usual tempo and not as much stretching out, if that makes any sense. And later, on Laminated Cat, the swirling jam section that usually offers a more psychedelic feel to the song turned tonight into more of a "primal" version with Glenn's percussion propulsively driving the song forward even more than usual. I'm not even sure that Jeff knew what to make of the final product; an almost-amused look crossed his face as he joked, "That's exactly how we rehearsed it. ... I love when an arrangement comes together (mid-song)."


Overall, it seemed to me that this was finally the show when all of the elements that make up a quality Wilco show came together at last. The new lighting design seemed a bit more confident and dynamic. The sound had been a bit of a challenge on the first two shows, especially Night 1, which was understandable given the absence of longtime front-of-house man Stan Doty, who is expected back soon. While Stan was again missing on Night 3, it seemed like those filling his exceedingly capable shoes finally got things straightened out somewhat by this final show. (And that was also true for opening act Horsegirl, and the trio of young women from Chicago who took in Wilco's set each night from the stage left boxes were apparently delighted to be awarded the evening's "Best Behaved" trophies in what Jeff called a "unanimous" decision.)


Moreover, the energy in the room tonight just seemed to be the best it has been throughout this latest Riv mini-residency. There were no more first-night jitters or Saturday shenanigans by the audience, or at least not that I detected. For the most part, it just seemed that everyone was content to be there taking in one final Chicago performance by the hometown heroes for the time being. Who knows when the next one will be by the full band? Certainly it seems like it might not happen again until a new record emerges, and it's bit hard to believe that these might be the only time that some of the songs from Cruel Country are played in town.


Now it's onto New York (Westchester, ftw!) and another series of three shows with no repeated songs, and then onto the band's much-anticipated Icelandic debut. It will be interesting to see how much the setlists evolve as Jeff and Co. continue to get their touring legs back under them. I can't imagine these Riv shows would simply be an exact blueprint for how the other mini-residencies will go, not with the depth of Wilco's catalog that has yet to be explored. If we promise to keep our booing in check, can we get a Kicking Television in Port Chester, Jeff...whaddya say?


Here was the complete setlist, as played, for Night 3 at the Riv:


At Least That's What You Said

Spiders (Kidsmoke)

The Universe

You Are My Face

Whole Love

Mystery Binds

I'll Fight

Side With The Seeds

One And A Half Stars (started and restarted)

Tired Of Taking It Out On You

Impossible Germany

Sunken Treasure

Laminated Cat (aka Not For The Season)


Either Way

Hate It Here

Dawned On Me

Jesus, etc.


The Late Greats

Heavy Metal Drummer

A Shot In The Arm

On And On And On

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As always, thanks for the excellent reportage, Paul. I was fortunate to make it to nights two and three. Things I particularly loved:


-- The opening one-two punch from AGIB and the healthy Sky Blue Sky representation.

-- The different direction on Laminated Cat. "Primal" suits it perfectly, and the new direction really highlights what a shape-shifter that song is, lending itself to a range of renditions from wistful solo acoustic to trippy, spacey psychedelic to fuzzed-out garage rock.

-- Nels' work on Impossible Germany, where he mixed up his reliably incendiary solo with some loping, strutting, bluesy notes that gave the song different flavor of swagger.

-- Spotting the members of Horsegirl gleefully singing along from their perch in the box.

-- The surprising (to me, anyway) closing selection of On and On and On. After the shoutalong blast of Shot in the Arm I was wondering where they'd go for the final selection -- Casino Queen, maybe? -- and thought the shift to the quieter, prayerful On and On and On made for a lovely valediction.


As far as the concertgoing experience, the Riv proved a challenge. If you're not in the front GA section, it can be quite hard to see the band unless you're 6' 6". It also means you're likely to be in close proximity to running conversations from other people about how they can't see, either. On Saturday night we were near a member of the security team who did a very admirable job with the thankless task of playing bouncer to the stage right side aisle -- this sparked a kind of cooperative team dynamic among those of us standing near him. On Sunday night I was closer to stage left, and another member of the team was quite shouty with the non-compliant audience members trying to set up camp in that aisle. It's not exactly the background vibe you're hoping for when Jeff launches into Sunken Treasure. I'm very grateful that Wilco kicked off 2023 with this hometown run at the Riv, and seeing them ANYWHERE, especially Chicago, especially now that we've moved back, is always a special thing. And the band's long history at the Riv, and the Riv's long history itself, brings an extra dimension to the show. That said, the challenges of the venue made for a couple of the most claustrophobic, sight-line challenged, sound muddying, urinal puck scented Wilco shows of the forty-something I've seen. Not to be ungrateful -- I'm grateful, very grateful! -- I think I was just surprised and a bit unprepared to be quite so thrashed by the Riv's currents. And I quickly found that the best approach was to just give up and let the venue carry you where it would instead of fighting the churn. There's a silver lining in it, the kind of helpful reminder to chill out and go with the flow that comes from being happy just to see your favorite band do their thing (or see the back of someone's head seeing the band do their thing), knowing that whatever you get will be special in its own way, and the next time, and the next place, will be its own special thing, too. As a wise rocker once sang: "I will try to understand either way."





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I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many sky blue sky songs in a single show, including when they were touring that album!  Only saw Thursday and Sunday but am really hoping for some more Chicago dates later this year.

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