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Wilco — 15 March 2024, Canberra, Australia (Canberra Theatre)

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Other than falling somewhere behind the Big Three of Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, I honestly couldn't tell you where Canberra fits into the rest of the Australian cultural conversation except that it has the added cachet of being the nation's capital. I do know that until tonight's show at the Canberra Theatre, Wilco had never performed in the city despite playing many shows in Australia since its first tour here back in 2003 (and neither the Tweedy band nor Jeff solo tours had visited Canberra either on their Aussie excursions in 2016 and 2019, respectively). So this was a rare first, which are becoming increasingly rare in Wilco/Tweedy world after 30 years of live outings.


Not that it felt all that different from your average seated theater show in most small-to-medium-sized cities in the good ol' US of A. Take a modernish 1,200-seat room that mostly hosts musical theater productions, comedy shows and the occasional rock concert in a city like Spokane, Wash., or Des Moines, Iowa, and I don't think you'd be too far off from what the vibe of the Canberra Theatre — or its sold-out audience — was like. At least that's how it felt to me, outside of the handful of ardent fans, who made for an interesting standing vs. sitting "referendum" at the front.


Jeff, of course, couldn't help but poke a little fun at the seated and relatively sedate crowd and he chose his moment eight songs in — knowing he and his bandmates were about to play a rocker in Random Name Generator — to observe that "you're pretty quiet for a Friday night crowd. You must be all tuckered out from all the legislating and stuff. ... That's OK, we have a lot of time and a lot of songs to win you over." For their part, the Canberrans(?) seemed to enjoy getting a little jab and it spurred some of them onto a mini-stage rush of sorts as a few of the big fans already seated in the first couple of rows — including our own the ashtraysays — rose to their feet and were joined by a small, gleeful band of others who streamed down the aisles toward the front of the stage as the band launched into RNG.


It made for kind of a strange sight, I have to say. Instead of the usual standing vs. sitting dynamic that I expected at a show in a venue like this, you suddenly had about 75-100 people standing huddled around the front of the stage, while behind them sat about 1,100 other folks looking either bemused and/or annoyed. It was actually OK the first time it happened because right after RNG, Jeff quipped that, "I think this referendum has been voted down, clearly," and how it was OK because the band was going to play a ballad next anyhow, "so you should give each other some hugs and find your seats." Most of the stage rushers dispersed at that point and did just that, but a few continued to hold out even as Jeff continued to joke about how "there can't be anarchy" and "you can do whatever you want, (but) it's up to your peers."


Rock concert as metaphor for societal dynamics, eh? I suppose it's been done before. Ultimately, though, I suppose it ended up being what it usually ends up being — every man or woman for themselves. It's just that over here, or at least at this particular venue in Canberra, people were seemingly too polite to get too bent out of shape nor were the venue staff strong-willed enough to enforce anything once things got out of control. For instance, a couple of songs after Muzzle of Bees, when order had somewhat been restored a guy simply came back down and stood in the aisle next to the front row during Evicted and no one shooed him away or anything. He was simply allowed to remain, and eventually others followed suit again until there were a group of about 50 people standing in the aisles and the gaps between the front rows and the stage for the rest of the show.


I believe it was the guy who came down front during Evicted who was responsible for another funny moment during the show when he yelled out a request for Love Is Everywhere (Beware). Jeff heard the request and immediately shot back, "I just cut that from the list. No, I really did. OK, put it back. We'll do it. Not now. When we come back in 10 years." And eventually Jeff and Co. did play the song just where they had intended to all along — its first performance on Australian soil, to boot. "I'm glad I thought of that one, to put it in the set,"  Jeff said. "That was my idea." (Incidentally, right after that, someone yelled out for some Thin Lizzy and Jeff replied by saying they were a great band and playing a quick snippet of a riff, but quickly nipping any suggestion of a cover in the bud by saying, "We have about 400 of our own songs and we're only gonna get to play...a few more.")


Things went pretty much by the book for the last third of the show. The group of standers toward the front didn't really grow much more, nor did it shrink. It just kind of became the status quo after a while, and that was that. Occasionally someone would yell a request out and after one such instance, Jeff would recycle his old line about how "it's getting to be that point in the show when people have started to realize we're not gonna play the song that they want to hear. We have pamphlets in the lobby...no, there's a support group for how to deal with that."


Whether or not Jeff simply wanted to try and shake an audience comprised largely of people probably seeing his band live for the first time out of their doldrums a bit or just couldn't resist making a few governmental jokes at the expense of a capital city crowd, he at least succeeded — by speaking up early on — in making more interesting what could otherwise have just slipped into the ranks of theater shows that go by the wayside and aren't long remembered by their middle-aged suburbanite attendees. And I'd say for that fact alone, Canberra's initial Wilco resolution passed successfully.


"I think we got a lot of good work done tonight," Jeff said to a cheering audience in his final words before waving good night one last time.


Here was the complete setlist, as played, for Canberra (there were, in the end, no changes/omissions from the printed setlist):


Hell Is Chrome

Handshake Drugs


I Am My Mother

Cruel Country

I Am Trying To Break Your Heart


Side With The Seeds

Random Name Generator

Muzzle Of Bees



Box Full Of Letters

Jesus, etc.

Impossible Germany

Love Is Everywhere (Beware)


Heavy Metal Drummer

The Late Greats

A Shot In The Arm


Via Chicago

California Stars

Spiders (Kidsmoke)

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It was indeed a strange little sit / stand / rush dynamic. But good lord those seats WERE quite comfy. 
My newfound friends in the front row had all conspired to break the standing seal right away, but when they opened with Hell is Chrome it was clear that Jeff was reading the room and not cranking it up early. But when Jeff kinda coaxed the crowd leading into RNG, we went for it!! 
One of the more peculiar moments in that tug of war was when a lone woman came down the aisle to the front as Jeff started Hummingbird, which seemed to be a favorite song of hers. Jeff kinda acknowledged her presence and sang a line or two “At” her. Once that song ended she left, and as Jeff got his guitar for the next song and returned to the mic asking “where’d she go?”. 



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