Even with 3,000 or so people piled into the place, generating body heat, the air over Crossroads KC bore a sharp chill Tuesday night. Jeff Tweedy, the main man in Wilco, the evening's headliner, called the mood "autumnal" and melancholic so he prescribed some "squash-colored songs."
If this was your first Wilco show, you might not have felt the rewards as profoundly -- kind of like jumping into an HBO show at the start of the fourth season. But if you've followed Wilco since Uncle Tupelo died and this were your seventh or ninth or 15th time seeing them, you probably walked away wanting to follow the bus to Austin, Texas, and see them again Thursday night.
The show began with a snippet of the theme song from "The Price is Right," which was appropriate. For $31.50, they gave the full house 28 songs and 145 minutes of music -- Springsteen numbers (except for the price). The setlist left out a few big ones -- no "Heavy Metal Drummer"; nothing off "A.M." -- but it included other standards ("California Stars," "I'm The Man Who Loves You," "Jesus, Etc.") and a surprise or two ("Hoodoo Voodoo").
At this point in its life, Wilco/Tweedy doesn't really need to worry much about what is or isn't played at a Wilco show. He has seven albums to draw from, plus the two "Mermaid Avenue" discs, and most of the fans who show up for the live shows are pretty intimate with all of them, including the latest, "Wilco (The Album)."
They played several tracks off that Tuesday night. Each was greeted warmly, sometimes enthusiastically. The best of those: the manic and enervated "Bull Black Nova," which stirred up the first of several heavy guitar/feedback storms of the night; and "You Never Know," the Beatle-ish track with the George Harrison-ish guitar solo.
Other highlights: "Jesus, Etc.," which included a big crowd sing-along (per Tweedy's request); Kingpin, which included a big clap-along; "Outta Site (Outta Mind)," which sounded extra joyous; and the closer, "I'm A Wheel," which had a wonderful sloppy/Replacements vibe.
Wilco is an ensemble now, not just a band -- up there with the Band, the E Street Band and the Heartbreakers. They comprise a group of stellar musicians who play with and off each other seamlessly and seemingly ego-lessly. I suppose the take their cue from their leader, who appears content to stand back and watch, admire. They aren't a jam band; they're a rock band that knows how to jam (and how not to). Guitarist Nels Cline in particular, delivered several sublime leads.
Tweedy, who can be dry, droll and witty when he's in the mood, was a bit reserved most of the night. After "Hate It Here," he blew his nose into a handkechief, than tossed it to someone who asked for it. (The Shroud of Mucus?). He also needled his opener, Liam Finn, who was sporting a jacket he'd bought that afternoon that looked like it came from Chess King.
Otherwise, the band was pretty business-like -- too much, I guess, for some people. A friend texted me: "Headline: 'Wilco too sober. Again.'" I sure didn't think so. In fact, Wilco is what kept me warm and happy for nearly three hours, like a shot or two of whiskey.
Liam Finn: The opener (and son of Neil Finn) performed with Eliza Jane Barnes and did the tape/loop thing where he records a guitar or drum bit and then plays live over the recording. The 1,000 or so people up front during the set seemed to enjoy most of his 45-minute set, even though his music seemed diminished by the size of the venue. (He and Barnes joined Wilco for two encore numbers, "You Never Know" and "California Stars.")
| Timothy Finn, The Star
Wilco setlist: Wilco (The Song); I Am Trying To Break Your Heart; Bull Black Nova; You Are My Face; One Wing; A Shot In The Arm; Radio Cure; Impossible Germany; At Least That's What You Said; One By One; I'll Fight; Handshake Drugs; Sonny Feeling; Hate It Here; Can't Stand It; Jesus, Etc; Walken; I'm the Man Who Loves You. Encore: Misunderstood; I'm Always In Love; You Never Know; California Stars; Kingpin; The Late Great; Monday; Outtasite (Outta Mind); Hoodoo Voodoo; I'm A Wheel