In front of an understated backdrop Sunday, Wilco let the music speak for itself.
On a comfortably breezy September evening, Chicago rock group Wilco played to a diverse crowd of plaid-clad hipsters (including myself) and stoic middle-agers, all gathered for the band’s popular brand of experimental indie music sound.
Singer/songwriter Jonathan Richman kicked off the evening with drummer Tommy Larkins for the Ninth Street attendees. The wide-eyed Massachusetts native performed an eclectic mix of acoustic folk rock with a worldly influence, singing songs about Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer and a multilingual song about partying. While entertaining, Richman yielded to the fan yelling, “I like Wilco,” admitting, “When I’m in the crowd, I don’t like the opening act that overstays its welcome. We don’t want to be that band.”
Any fan expecting a toned-down set from Wilco received an unexpected dose of the group’s rocking side (which could have been predicted had the fan read MOVE’s interview with bassist John Stirratt) — Wilco opened with “Misunderstood” and never looked back.
The band’s humble demeanor made way for a 2 1/2 hour set that included a 26-song setlist that explored a large and varied discography as well as some covers. Although the band played enough songs to make any average Wilco fan content, the performance made the show truly special.
Wilco’s complex recorded material would be difficult for lesser bands to effectively translate to a live setting, but the band’s skills and sound mixing are top-notch. Each member had an equal chance to shine as the various sounds came through the stage’s speakers crisp and clear.
Lead singer Jeff Tweedy’s vocals came out strong, while Stirratt and drummer Glenn Kotche combined to create a tight rhythm section. Multi-instrumentalists Pat Sansone and Mikael Jorgensen added spice to Wilco’s song selection with keyboards and electronic tones, and lead guitarist Nels Cline dazzled on guitar (what else could you expect from Rolling Stone’s 82nd greatest guitarist of all time)?
With this much talent in one band, it’s no wonder the live show is so spectacular. Many of Wilco’s melodic tunes end with the band creating a gorgeous wall of sound, compounding instruments upon each other and leaving the crowd blown away.
After Tweedy’s long speech on Columbia being the “hometowniest” of hometowns midway through the set, he ended saying, “And now, back to the sadness.”
The band’s show, however, left the crowd feeling anything but sad.
Setlist: "Misunderstood" "Art of Almost" "I Might" "Bull Black Nova" "At Least That’s What You Said" "Spiders (Kidsmoke)" "Impossible Germany" "Born Alone" "Laminated Cat (aka Not for the Season)" "One Wing" "New Madrid" (Uncle Tupelo cover) "Handshake Drugs" "Hummingbird" "Whole Love" "Box Full of Letters" "I’m Always in Love" "Heavy Metal Drummer" "I’m the Man Who Loves You" "Dawned on Me" "A Shot in the Arm"
Encore: "Via Chicago" "Passenger Side" "Christ for President" (Woody Guthrie cover) "Candyfloss" "Casino Queen" "Outtasite (Outta Mind)"