Can you really trust a man that has told you lyrically that he’d “like to thank you for nothing at all” but minutes later he comforts you and says “not to cry and that you can rely on me?” When Wilco’s lead singer Jeff Tweedy came on stage Tuesday night at Grinder’s and set the message straight in Wilco (the song) that “Wilco loves you baby,” the crowd knew that they could immediately trust their manic-depressive musical confidant completely for the next couple of hours.
It seems that every time the Chicago-based band returns to the area, Kansas City receives them a little more warmly. On a chilly Tuesday night that dipped into the low 40s, the band reminded the capacity crowd of 3,000 on why they are the best kept secret in American rock music. Their sound has continued to morph and change with every album, but it has been on their own terms. This can easily alienate a fan base, but as this show exemplified, this band can effortlessly blend new tracks like “Bull Black Nova” with old standards from 10 years ago like “Radio Cure” and “Misunderstood” and the crowd will be with them the whole way.
Wilco has done the unlikely by constructing a live show that showcases the dichotomy of their full repertoire without riding the indie-rock pretension that plagues so many bands today. The band knows their audience and what to give them without sacrificing a single second of honesty.
“Were going to play some weather-appropriate music now,” Tweedy quipped in his dry witty banter nearly a quarter of a way through the set. “Here are some more autumnal numbers. Lots of rust, Squash colored tunes.”
Immediately, the band launched into “Impossible Germany” which is quickly becoming a quintessential fan favorite that showcases the six-piece lineup nearly perfectly. Lead guitarist Nels Cline orchestrally shredded out a seamlessly crescendoed solo that rode Tweedy’s complimentary lead before launching off somewhere into the stratosphere only to be brought back down for a safe landing.
This is what you can rely on at a Wilco show. The skeleton of the set list doesn’t change greatly, but the extreme sincerity of the performance on a sonic and lyrical level can drive a crowd into a frenzy and back in mere seconds.
Even when the band turned their 2001 hit “Jesus, etc.” into a crowd participation number, there was still a wry smile on Tweedy’s face as he would mouth the first words of each verse in the same way a father teaches his kids the right way to count to 10. It’s these moments that bring a crowd into the performance without being a complete cop-out by the band.
“We come here a lot,” Tweedy said. “So you should know these songs. We’ll give it a shot, I know it will sound pretty good.”
Through two encores and a show that clocked in at over two hours and change, the band sounded even better than good. During their first encore, they pulled out opener Liam Finn for the Woody Guthrie penned “California Stars.” The Australian-born son of Crowded House’s Neil Finn grinned wildly as he played through the rest of the encore with the band, including the concert staple “Kingpin.” After a second break, Wilco returned for a second encore that included a blistering rendition of the rarely played “Monday.”
For a band that was written off by critics after their last album as losing their creativity and catering to the dad-rock crowd, Wilco came back with a simple elegance, yet a strongly stated effort that translates so well to live performance. Maybe it is finding stability in a band that finally has finally stopped the revolving door practice that led to the departure of so many talented members. Or, maybe it is the realization of Tweedy and company that what they say in “Wilco (the song)” is reflected right back at them. It is a fact that you can rely on, Jeff. Kansas City loves you, baby.
The full show can be downloaded here legally and free through a torrent.
- Intro (The Price is Right)
- 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
- I’m the Man Who Loves You
- I’m Always In Love
- You Never Know
- California Stars
- The Late Greats
- Outtasite (Outta Mind)
- Hoodoo Voodoo
- I’m A Wheel