By: Alex Wood
“You’re never going to see a show like this one again,” Jeff Tweedy said after the main set of Wilco’s fourth night at the Riviera.
The singer was right. After playing three 30-song sets without scarcely repeating a song, Wilco continued the trend on the fourth night. Given the number of hits already performed, this made for a unique set, to say the least.
The band’s main set seemed to tap into a specific sound that exists throughout their discography. The songs were mellow and dynamic, ignoring the harder side of alternative-country in favor of clean tones and laid-back acoustics.
This approach still offered a lot of great moments, especially for jam-band fans.
“One Sunday Morning” seemed to foreshadow the set’s tone, the acoustic Whole Love track taking its time to slowly unravel to a restrained yet experimental finish. “Muzzle Of Bees” continued calmly, building to a big solo from Nels Cline but never taking off the way other A Ghost Is Born songs do.
If any songs properly represented the set’s musical vision, it was those from Sky Blue Sky.” The songs, such as “You Are My Face” and “Side With The Seeds,” featured excellent guitar work and climactic highs, yet always returned to softer sections.
Live debut “Message From Mid-Bar,” from the Speak Into The Rose EP wasn’t particularly exciting but fit the night’s vibe. “Shouldn’t Be Ashamed” felt refreshing as the first upbeat song of the night, Cline’s solo taking the song to new heights.
“Deeper Down,” another rare choice for the band, was announced by Tweedy as the most difficult song they’ve pulled out yet and featured Cline switching between a 12-string guitar, slide guitar and odd synthesizer. Difficult or not, the overly simplistic “ELT” followed, its pop-sensibility offering a much-needed blast of energy.
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of Wilco’s performance was the set’s unwillingness to build. While the band’s sets typically start big and end big, this one featured no huge run of songs or grand finale.
Instead, individual songs stood as the high point of the set, such as the climactic “At Least That’s What You Said,” the song’s effective use of dynamics building from a quiet whisper to an explosion of distorted guitars.
A.M.’s “Dash 7” and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot demo “Alone” felt slow but stood as rare offerings for Wilco fans tired of the band’s normal sets, the former featuring only Tweedy and Cline on a slide guitar and the latter adding bass and percussion. An acoustic rendition of “Spiders (Kidsmoke)” eliminated the electric experimentalism that makes the original amongst the band’s strongest tracks.
The band seemed to save the mellowest songs from each record for this consistent set, as exemplified by the pairing of Summerteeth’s “When You Wake Up Feeling Old” and “She’s A Jar.” A similar pairing of Being There’s “What’s The World Got In Store” and “Say You Miss Me” followed, both songs straightforward and simple compared to the rest of the record.
“Impossible Germany” featured an undeniable appeal to jam-band fans, its lengthy solo featuring distinct sections, the band’s cohesive performance returning to set riffs and motifs throughout, constantly leaning on Cline’s technical abilities to build to new heights.
“I’m A Wheel” was performed with energy and force, Tweedy’s hoarse vocals essential to the song’s success, the singer eventually screaming into the microphone. “The Lonely 1” closed the set with an appropriately somber but rare note, as though to summarize the night’s tone and bookend the set.
Fans looking for Wilco’s more straightforward rock songs were provided a two-song encore of pure energy.
Sky Blue Sky outtake “Let’s Not Get Carried Away” featured the heavy, electric liveliness of previous nights only teased throughout the night’s calm set, the track reminiscent of early Wilco. The song ended in a three-minute drum solo from Glenn Kotche, the stage lights dramatically shifting colors over the drummer until the band returned for the last thirty seconds of the chorus.
“Kicking Television” was a predictable highlight of the evening, featuring the intensity of hard rock or metal with gruff vocals and clean, quick riffs interjected regularly from Cline.
The show featured an acoustic second encore, the band again performing unplugged at the front of the stage.
“Passenger Side” and “I Got You (At The End Of The Century)” fit the sing-along vibe well, with a banjo heavy version of Big Star’s “Thirteen” coming as a pleasant choice of cover.
The acoustic highlight, however, came in the form of “Misunderstood,” the song performed as it is electric, with the noisy section in the middle sounding almost humorous on acoustic guitars and banjo. As Tweedy repeatedly screamed “nothing” in the song’s final line the crowd screamed along, the singer jokingly motioning for the crowd to calm down before ending the song.
The set certainly featured Wilco in rare form, and the band deserves to be commended for sticking to a consistent sound throughout a 24-song set. Though the show offered none of the big hits prominently featured on Friday or the hard-rockers played on Monday, it showed a rare glimpse into the forgotten gems and lesser-known tunes the band should rightfully be proud of.
For a band with an eclectic discography of such highly consistent quality, Wilco is well aware of their fourth Winterlude set being an odd one.
And Tweedy wasn’t joking: we won’t see a set like this again.
Setlist via viachicago.org
One Sunday Morning
Muzzle Of Bees
You Are My Face
Bob Dylan’s 49th Beard
Message From Mid-Bar (full band debut)
Shouldn’t Be Ashamed
Side With The Seeds
At Least That’s What You Said
Shake It Off
Dash 7 (Jeff and Nels only; Nels on lap steel)
Shakin’ Sugar (aka Alone) (Jeff, John and Glenn only)
Spiders (Kidsmoke) (acoustic arrangement)
When You Wake Up Feeling Old
She’s A Jar
What’s The World Got In Store
Say You Miss Me
Too Far Apart
I’m A Wheel
The Lonely 1
Let’s Not Get Carried Away
I Got You (At The End of the Century)* (“This Is 40″ arrangement)
Thirteen* [Big Star]
* — performed hootenanny style with Jeff and John on acoustic guitars, Nels on dobro, Pat on banjo, Glenn on percussion and Mikael on melodica/acoustic guitar