Review: Wilco at Wexner Center
Review of Wilco's latest stop at Mershon Auditorium coming right up...
This was my tenth time seeing Wilco, so I pretty much know what to expect from their concerts at this point. Jeff Tweedy and band show off some selections from their latest record — Wilco (The Album), at the moment — amidst a healthy supply of older material. They get most of the moody, intellectual stuff out of the way during the main set and mostly rock out during the encore. Tweedy cracks a few jokes along the way.
The routine is familiar enough that I know to expect certain songs in certain parts of the show at this point. ("I Am Trying to Break Your Heart" will always come early; "I'm the Man That Loves You" appears late; etc.) They didn't break script last night, but as usual they found a way to send me home smiling anyway. They've become experts at putting on the kind of show a casual fan would love while throwing a few bones to the fanboys.
Consider "Theologians," tossed in near the end of the main set. They don't always play it, but it's one of their best, and hearing it back-to-back with a sing-along version of "Jesus, etc." — maybe my two favorite Wilco songs ever — was nearly divine. On the other end of the spectrum, what about the Nels Cline/Pat Sansone guitar duel on "Hoodoo Voodoo"? The Wilco I fell in love with circa Yankee Hotel Foxtrot would never have pulled something like that, but it sure was fun, wadn't it?
Avant guitar hero Cline continues to be the star of this five-years-strong version of the band. Sometimes his shredding still doesn't seem to fit, but he's curbed those moments over the years and figured out when to cut loose and when to play it cool. More often than not his contributions elevate the show, whether he's brilliantly noodling through "Impossible Germany" or wailing on one note for "Wilco (The Song)." And he managed not to fall on his face this time.
Tweedy was in good spirits, mocking the alcohol-starved Mershon crowd for its poor performance on the "Jesus, etc." singalong and jokingly threatening to remove people who were breaking the no-flash-photography rule. Opener Liam Finn seemed similarly happy to be welcomed on stage for "You Never Know" and "California Stars," though I'm not sure his acoustic strumming and background vocals would have been missed. Nice gesture, though.
The thing that stands out more than anything is what consummate showmen they've become. I already alluded to the shred-off between Cline and Sansone, but everything about this concert screamed "old, settled down and ready to entertain." That mindset might be ruining their records — I'll always prefer the artsy, tortured heyday that yielded Summerteeth, YHF and A Ghost is Born — but it makes for a much better live experience than the sleepwalking skeleton crew I first encountered at Cincinnati's Bogart's seven years ago.
Still, here's hoping that even in this newly attained peaceful headspace they can release another stone cold classic before all is said and done. The setlist needn't be polluted by any more second-rate cuts like "I'll Fight" and "Country Disappeared."
Setlist, courtesy of Via Chicago: Wilco (The Song) I Am Trying To Break Your Heart One Wing A Shot In The Arm Bull Black Nova You Are My Face One By One I'll Fight At Least That's What You Said Deeper Down Impossible Germany Country Disappeared Handshake Drugs Wishful Thinking ---band introductions from Glenn's drum pads-- You Never Know (w/ Liam Finn) I'm Always in Love Jesus, Etc. (sing-along) Theologians I'm The Man Who Loves You
Encore: Misunderstood The Late Greats California Stars (w/ Liam Finn and Eliza Jane Barnes) Heavy Metal Drummer Hate It Here Walken Monday Hoodoo Voodoo (w/ Liam Finn - cowbell) I'm A Wheel