Oh, and also, Wilco played a sold-out show at the Uptown on Saturday night.
I missed opener Nick Lowe, and I’m bummed about it, but let’s not dwell on it. Moving on. The Wilco crowd, as I witnessed it on Saturday, continues to evolve. The band’s sound and aesthetic remain inclusive, and in addition to the regular beards-and-glasses set, there were bros, hippie types, even a few 1-percenters. The more, the merrier, I say. There is so much divisiveness in this world; surely most of us can agree on Wilco? Even if you think the songs are snoozy, it’s hard to argue with the musicianship going on at the group's live shows.
Being a world-class band (America’s band?) affords you certain luxuries, and one of those is leeway with the set list. Wilco opened Saturday night’s show with one of the more forgettable songs in its catalog, “Less Than You Think.” It’s the one on A Ghost Is Born that devolves into 15 or so minutes of pointless drone. At the Uptown, Wilco droned for only a few minutes, and because the band is so ridiculously tight and talented, the droning was more like a weighty, nervy jam. The 2011 version of Wilco is capable of retroactively injecting boring old Wilco songs with verve and vitality.
Still, it was a bit of a slow start. “Less Than You Think” was followed by two new ones from the band’s latest, The Whole Love — “The Art of Almost” and “I Might.” The Whole Love is an all-right album, probably Wilco’s second-worst, behind 2009’s Wilco (The Album), and Saturday’s set went heavy on it. All of the new songs were just fine, none of them transcendent. On “Black Moon,” there was a noticeable mass exodus for the bathrooms and bar. Well, perhaps in a few years the band will turn it into something less boring.
The crowd participation on certain Wilco songs has reached jam-band-level intimacy, and it can sometimes be annoying. Everybody sings along to “Misunderstood” and knows that the Thank you all for nothing at all part at the end is repeated ad infinitum; everybody knows that the dark and stormy tones on “Via Chicago” turn bright eventually — the lights go up, and the fists pump. Even “Radio Cure” gets a sing-along. “Radio Cure”! That is a pretty bleak song! All three of those are pretty bleak songs! Whatever floats the boat, I suppose.
The evening’s apex was “Impossible Germany,” one of the best post-Jay-Bennett Wilco songs. It’s a crisp, gray song that shifts, three minutes in, into this addictive twin-guitar jam, and it’s tailor-made for a live setting. Tweedy cozied up to Sansone on stage left, and they mimicked each other’s fretwork, while Nels Cline’s lanky ass seizured around on the other side of the stage infusing the thing with his distinct neurotic shredding. It built and built. A spontaneous roar took hold in the crowd. I think a lot of us Wilco lifers probably miss the old days, when the shows didn't sell out in a day, and when Tweedy and whatever group of guys he was playing with felt like our own special little secret. But there was something pretty amazing about the hugeness of the energy in the room as "Impossible Germany" confidently circled up the mountain, and whatever it was, whatever you want to call that, it wasn't there in the old days. Wilco-level success requires certain trade-offs, and moments like that lead me to believe that they're continuing to make the correct ones.
Less Than You Think
The Art of Almost
You and I
Box Full of Letters
War on War
Dawned on Me
Shot in the Arm
The Whole Love
Heavy Metal Drummer
Man Who Loves You
Cruel to Be Kind (with Nick Lowe)