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Wilco — 6 April 2023, Reykjavík, Iceland (Harpa Center [Eldborg Hall]) [Night 1 of 3]

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Well, Wilco finally made its much-anticipated Icelandic debut tonight in the main hall (Eldborg) at the stunning Harpa complex here in Reykjavík and it was a) an entertaining set that capitalized on the stellar acoustic elements in the ultra-modern room, b ) a show that was fine, but to me lacked some of the energy of the club shows in Chicago and Port Chester the last couple of weeks, c) an evening's worth of music performed overwhelmingly for folks who had traveled from the U.S. and Europe and not so many locals, d) a collection of tunes that may have triggered a sense of déja vu for anyone who's been following these recent three-show mini residencies closely, e) all of the above.


Then again, perhaps some or all of these assessments were clouded by a literal day full of eating and imbibing local delights (fermented shark bits with a chaser of Brennivin, sometimes known the Black Death, ftw!) around town, or my perch in the first balcony — I guess I didn't study the seating chart closely enough when I bought the tickets — so take anything I might say with a grain of Icelandic lava salt.


Before I go any further, however, I must congratulate our own theashtraysays aka Vince for being chosen as the latest recipient of the band's "Best Behaved" trophy. Or at least an IOU certificate for said trophy and a stand-in one put together by the crew made of of tape and foil. (Please share the photo of that, if you would!) Apparently the band's cache of actual trophies had gotten held up at customs or something, which is kind of hilarious because while their Iceland-specific merch like T-shirts, pennants and posters made it to the show fine, the crappy little statuettes the band has been awarding at shows this year did not.


"If anybody knows anybody at customs that can pull some strings, give it a shot," Jeff quipped. The trophy bit once again provided most of Jeff's visits to Banter Corner for the duration of the show. Relatively early on, Jeff initially brought up the trophy and how they didn't have it on stage yet before realizing that many people in the audience might not even know what he was talking about (if they hadn't followed the events of recent shows). He then explained what the trophy was for, and said he and his bandmates would be observing and then would go backstage and decide the winner, "so keep that in mind as you're reveling."


As usual, it never got quite that far. Just a few songs later, Jeff decided had chosen a worthy recipient in Vince and bestowed the "award," only to make him immediately give it back so that the band could award it again the following night (and the following night). Near the end of the main set, Jeff said he realized that the flaw in awarding the trophy so early in the show was that it wouldn't give people an incentive to behave after that. That thought segued nicely into Jeff's last real comments of the evening, in which he asked whether anyone in the crowd was actually from Iceland. After a seemingly tepid response, Jeff thanked those locals in attendance "for putting up with all of us and sharing your beautiful country with us."


Certainly it is always interesting to see Wilco in a place it has never performed before, even if relatively few audience members were actually seeing and hearing the band with fresh eyes and ears. I can't say for sure, of course, but surely Jeff and Co. were inspired by some of the sights and experiences offered by this unique landscape.


If I had to nitpick something, it might be surprising that it would involve the sound. While you could hardly argue with the acoustics of the room, and after all, it was specifically engineered to facilitate sound, I experienced some of the same issues I have whenever a rock band plays a space that's probably optimized for a symphony orchestra. From the balcony, it just sounded to me a bit punchless, if that makes any sense, especially with the guitars. I could hear them fine, but they just didn't have that same oomph or sharpness that I was craving for much of the set. I'm far from a sound expert, but I've seen enough Wilco shows that I trust my ears and to me, it just wasn't as vibrant as I've experienced — even just a few days ago in Port Chester, for example, when I felt like everything really got locked in for a couple of nights.


Songwise, for me Ashes Of American Flags was probably the highlight for me tonight (despite the wiseacre in the balcony who seemed eager to pounce on the $3.63 Diet Coke lyric as a commentary on Iceland's notoriously expensive prices). This was the one time I felt like Nels' soaring guitar solo — not to mention Glenn's supportive percussion — cut through the room and came the closest to bridging the tension between acoustics and dynamics that I struggled with for much of the show.


Anyway, we'll see what the rest of this Icelandic residency has in store. With the continuing promise of no repeated songs, I'm sure it will be relatively similar to the other setlists from Chicago and Port Chester. I don't expect the band to reinvent the wheel or anything, so it would be a surprise to hear something that hasn't already been played over the past couple of weeks — that is to say a true deep cut. I'd be more than happy to be proven wrong, of course. But at any rate, those expected remaining songs still to be performed here in Iceland nevertheless leave plenty of room for more fun — and good behavior? — to be had by all.


Here was the complete setlist, as played, for night 1 at Harpa:


Via Chicago

Story To Tell

Handshake Drugs

Say You Miss Me

I Must Be High

Muzzle Of Bees


Love Is Everywhere (Beware)

Pot Kettle Black

Bird Without A Tail/Base Of My Skull

She's A Jar

Company In My Back

Forget The Flowers


Ashes Of American Flags

The Lonely 1

How To Fight Loneliness

A Lifetime To Find


I'm Always In Love

California Stars

Red-Eyed And Blue>

I Got You (At The End Of The Century)>


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Thanks for the review as always. You And I was on the setlist, in place of Company In My Back I think. I think the sound got worse during the show, especially Jeff's voice. But still impressive acoustics, I do however agree about the missing 'Oomph'. I was 15 seats to your right and one row behind and while this is not at arm's length to the stage I still love to have a panoramic view sometimes. Harpa itself is an architectonic triumph, will wander around a but more tonight. See you, C.

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  • bböp changed the title to Wilco — 6 April 2023, Reykjavík, Iceland (Harpa Center [Eldborg Hall]) [Night 1 of 3]

Well thanks for the congrats, and I’m honored to be inducted to the Best Behaved organization. Twas indeed a thrill to be selected, albeit by a less than democratic process than initially promised. 
As far as the trophy saga goes, I was able to reach a settlement with management to retain the one-of-a-kind work of art in addition to redeeming the IOU for the official version. (And ahead of the show on night 2, Crystal and Susie brought me the real one as the case with the actual trophies did indeed show up during the day).  
The surrogate version was apparently crafted backstage via a team of Crystal, Susie, Mark, and PK, using materials readily available - water bottle, gaff tape, chocolate bar wrapper and some cardboard. I shall treasure it forever. Assuming I can get it back through customs….



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