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Wilco — 27 August 2023, Utrecht, The Netherlands (TivoliVredenburg [Ronda]) [Night 1 of 2]

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Night One of a two-night stand within the familiar confines of the sprawling TivoliVredenburg complex in Utrecht meant a return to normalcy in many ways for Wilco and its crew. After a couple of weeks of mostly outdoor gigs with unpredictable weather conditions in countries where English wasn't the first language and little things like styles of coffee and cooling systems were just a little different than what we are used to in the good ol' US of A, being back in this charming Dutch city that the band has played in a number of times over the years felt like a welcome return to a home away from home.


Not that the familiarity led to a ho-hum performance in any way, and actually the band is playing in a room this time — the more rock-oriented Ronda — that it had only played in once before (more on that later). I was told that the band not playing in the wood-paneled, cavernous and "Imperial Senate"-like (as Jeff has previously dubbed it) Grote Zaal had nothing to do with the Oude Muziek (Early Music) Festival that is simultaneously taking place at the Tivoli and which made for the amusing (at least to me) sight of a gaggle of grey-haired groupies (Australian Carillon Society, ftw!) exiting one of those performances into the lobby, where they ran headlong into the only slightly lesser-grey haired audience trying to make its way into the Wilco gig. Anyway, apparently the promoter of the Wilco shows simply felt that the Ronda is the venue in the Tivoli most suited for a rock concert.


Who knows how much, if any, of this was going through Jeff's mind when he seemed to be a bit addled just two songs into the show? He started to instinctively strum the opening chords to I Am My Mother, as that would usually be the song played in that spot in the set. However, he quickly stopped himself in short order and said sheepishly, "That's not right; I know what I want to play." Then he switched over to the chords to The Universe, but promptly stopped again as if he couldn't remember them. "One more time," he said, starting again but clearly struggling his way through the lyrics of the first verse before finally getting on track.


He mumbled a quick explanation in the moment about how the band had been playing a lot of festivals lately, blah blah. But of course, you knew that in his mind he was probably going to come back to it a few songs later and offer a more detailed explanation because, as he explained, "That's the type of performer I am." It made for a good visit to Banter Corner, as he joked about how he had messed up because "you guys were too fucking exciting for me," and that he had forgotten that he had decided to put a quieter song into the set early on and was thrown when the audience was so into it (presumably because they usually aren't at most festivals). "I know you come to see Wilco because of our infallibility," Jeff continued. "Well you're gonna get it, if it takes all night."


Actually the jaunts to Banter Corner had begun a little earlier when someone yelled out a request for California Stars. Jeff smiled and joked that normally the band would ask that the requester go through the proper channels and fill out the form on its Web site for requests, "but we'll see what we can do. We're here to please." (It must be nice when a request is for a song that's going to be played anyway, which this was in the encore with some vocal assistance by support act Courtney Marie Andrews.) Jeff also segued from that bit into a story that I hadn't heard before, despite the band having played in Utrecht on a few other occasions, about there being signs hanging backstage informing artists that audiences might make a "Uuuuuuu" sound whilst holding up a hand cupped in the shape of a U that could be interpreted as booing but was actually just a version of a local chant that was actually a positive sign. Did it have to do with football or some other sport? It wasn't clear, though it certainly continued to be a recurring theme of the show from that point on.


Overall, Jeff seemed to be in good spirits and quite effusive overall. As I mentioned, maybe that just had to do with the relative freedom of being able to speak in a language that most of the audience seemed likely to understand. Along with that went more of a willingness to engage with the crowd. So that when one person wished him a happy birthday, he replied, "My birthday was...a few days ago. So we shall not speak of it (anymore)." When someone else joked about Jeff being 44, he said drily, "They don't have Google here, I guess." After Evicted, when Jeff announced that song would be on album that comes out next month, someone in the crowd couldn't help but make it known that he knew the album was called Cousin, to which Jeff shot back, "That's right. Thanks for reminding me. You're my fact-checking cuz."


Another very amusing bit came when someone else in the audience yelled out, unsolicited, "We love Jane Kotche!" I'm sure it was an honest mistake, something about the Dutch pronunciation of G versus J or something like that, but it did definitely sound like he said Jane. Jeff, of course, couldn't let that one go by without turning to Glenn and giving him a little brotherly ribbing. Then he corrected the man, saying "That's Glenn Kotche. But don't you love all of us? It's not fair to single one person out." Then Jeff joked that maybe this was the kind of audience in which "you individually could tell us how you feel. Let's start over (on the far side of the room)."


I mentioned earlier that the band had played in the Ronda once before, and it was a memorable night for the wrong reasons. It came on Nov. 9, 2016, which just happened to be the day after we all learned that Donald Trump had shockingly won the U.S. presidential election. Someone brought up the memory tonight, and Jeff said he certainly remembered it but suggested that was then and "now he's facing four indictments on 91 counts, and that's something, right? That has to be progress." That remains to be seen, I suppose, but Jeff certainly didn't hide his feelings, adding almost under his breath, "Fuck that guy...what a piece of shit."


Then, as now, it was ultimately about music and catharsis. "Music is my savior," Jeff sang in Sunken Treasure. "It's not the same without rock 'n' roll." Indeed, being back on familiar ground reminded us of that, and I'd say this was an audience (special shoutout to some of my Euro pals and loyal VCers in attendance, including the esteemed Marijn aka Marinus J. Akerboom; samuel_70 aka the Muscles From Brussels; and of course, 50footqueenie aka Iain-who-is-no-longer-a-Euro-but-is-a-Master-Of-Culture) that was happy to accept what Wilco had to offer in the moment, looking ahead to a hopefully better future. Or at least some more catharsis on Night 2.


Here was the complete setlist, as played, for Night 1 in Utrecht (didn't see a printed list, so can't say if there were any changes/omissions):


Handshake Drugs

The Universe

I Am My Mother

Cruel Country

I Am Trying To Break Your Heart

If I Ever Was A Child

Whole Love

Mystery Binds


Bird Without A Tail/Base Of My Skull

Sunken Treasure


Impossible Germany

Jesus, etc.

Everyone Hides

Heavy Metal Drummer

The Late Greats

A Shot In The Arm


Falling Apart (Right Now)

California Stars (w/Courtney Marie Andrews on vocals)

Box Full Of Letters

Spiders (Kidsmoke)

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7 hours ago, lost highway said:


Oh yeah, was it double time finger picky solo style version, or og slow jam?


Jeff on acoustic, no harmonica. I guess it was more the OG slow jam. FYI, they did play it a couple times in Spain, so it wasn't a tour debut or anything.

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