By: Alex Wood
For the opening night of their six-show Chicago residency, Wilco played a massive set in both choice and number of songs.
The band opened with “Via Chicago,” as though to get it out of the way, the sold-out crowd predictably ecstatic. The song was bombastic with noisy interludes and attention to dynamics.
Though this felt like a conventional choice of opener, the set weaved through the band’s discography, the band seemingly conscious of playing too many of their standard choices with five shows left at The Riviera in the coming week.
The band jumped from the mellow “Whole Love” to “I Must Be High,” Tweedy introducing it as “the first song we recorded twenty years ago.”
The straightforward A.M. rocker was followed by “Handshake Drugs,” Tweedy switching from electric guitar to acoustic for the verses, only to switch back to electric for a dual guitar solo with Nels Cline.
Though the band performed songs from each Wilco studio album, the set felt consistent. Though mellow tracks like “Wishful Thinking” or “Either Way” existed alongside older, alternative-country tracks like “Hotel Arizona” and “Forget The Flowers,” the songs were all anchored by the impeccable songwriting that has made Wilco such an unstoppable force to date.
The band left stage after the sing-along climax of “Either Way,” leaving Tweedy to perform A.M.-era demo “Childlike And Evergreen” alone, the country ballad’s performance still filling the huge venue as the full band had prior.
“Forget The Flowers” was performed with urgency, the country-meets-bluegrass jam barreling forward with quick electric guitar leading the way.
The excellent song choices continued throughout the set, as though the band used its 20th-anniversary hometown show as a way to remind fans of their accomplishments throughout their career.
“Nothing’severgonnastandinmyway(again)” offered a blast of upbeat pop-rock before “Hummingbird” showed a more complex side of the band, as though you were watching the band mature before your eyes. Tweedy set down his guitar for “Hummingbird,” only performing vocals as the song built to triumphant heights.
Tweedy continued to only provide vocals for an excellent pairing of “On And On And On” and “One By One,” the former providing an opportunity for a dramatic guitar solo from Cline.
As Tweedy continued to stand before the microphone empty-handed, he joked, “I think this is the most songs in a set I haven’t played guitar on ever.”
“A Magazine Called Sunset” followed, the song recently re-released on Wilco’s Alpha Mike Foxtrot compilation. A set highlight came in the form of another Alpha Mike track, “Camera,” a harder rocking version of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot’s “Kamera.” Grungy distorted guitars blasted through the amplifiers at a deafening volume, the song effortlessly transformed into a stadium-rock track more reminiscent of early Wilco than the era in which it was written.
After a long set of unlikely choices, the band finished with a string of popular songs.
The accessible “I’m Always In Love” quickly became “Heavy Metal Drummer,” the audience singing loudly with both songs. The fuzz-covered electric intro of “I’m The Man Who Loves” came next, followed by the danceable, upbeat “Dawned On Me.”
If the end of the set was designed to show off the band’s more accessible side, the encore was determined to show the band at their hardest rocking.
“Hate It Here” featured a guitar-driven approach, the vocal melody matched constantly by the song’s heavy riffs, Cline interjecting intricate solos into every space possible as Tweedy used a surprisingly effective falsetto.
“Kingpin” was the perfect choice for a follow-up, abandoning the complexity of the previous song to rock with brute force, its laid-back country stomp allowing for massive solo opportunities, the guitars clashing heavily and harshly.
Perhaps the band’s strangest choice of the night was performing “Just A Kid,” initially released on the soundtrack for The Spongebob Squarepants Movie. Yet the track worked, stylistically a straightforward blend of punk and pop, somewhat reminiscent of early Uncle Tupelo.
“Outtasite (Outta Mind)” ended the first encore appropriately as yet another example of a simplistic-but-rocking Wilco jam and a classic note to end on.
As has been the trend for recent Wilco sets, the band returned to stage for a second encore performed acoustic. Along with acoustic guitars, the set featured dobro, melodica, banjo and simple percussion instruments.
Sitting in a circle toward the front of the stage, the band returned with “Outta Mind (Outta Sight),” a wonderful play on the pair of Being There songs. “Art Of Almost” followed, the acoustic rendition drawing attention to the lyrics and vocal delivery as opposed to the instrumental focus of electric performances.
“The Thanks I Get” and “California Stars” ended the show appropriately, feeling like a loose, informal sing-along, the latter allowing every member to solo, including banjo, slide dobro and melodica.
In the end, the concert was a perfect representation of Wilco’s entire career, ranging from sunny pop to emotional ballads to experimental alternative to country and folk, all performed with enthusiasm and vigor.
The band was obviously happy to be home and should have plenty of surprises in line for the next five shows.
1. Via Chicago
2. Whole Love
3. I Must Be High
4. Handshake Drugs
5. Wishful Thinking
6. Hotel Arizona
7. Either Way
8. Childlike And Evergreen
9. Country Disappeared
10. Forget The Flowers
13. On and On and On
14. One By One
15. A Magazine Called Sunset
17. How To Fight Loneliness
19. I’m Always In Love
20. Heavy Metal Drummer
21. I’m The Man Who Loves You
22. Dawned On Me
23. Hate It Here
25. Just A Kid
26. Outtasite (Outta Mind)
Encore 2: (acoustic)
27. Outta Mind (Outta Sight)
28. Art Of Almost
29. The Thanks I Get
30. California Stars