Monday, October 26, 2009

Review: Wilco Live in Chicago: Arena Rock 101

Sunday, October 18, 2009
UIC Pavilion
Chicago, IL

I was starting to wonder if Wilco couldn’t find Chicago on the map. Aside from a performance at last years
Lollapalooza the last time the band played Chicago was for an epic five show residency at the Riviera Theatre in February 2008, in which they played their entire recorded catalog.

The elegant Auditorium Theatre had served as Wilco’s go-to venue for when they would play Chicago. The band played many a memorable shows at the iconic venue, but with a new album out something had to give. Could Wilco keep the intimacy of a theater show in an arena setting?

Once inside the arena, you could sense the excitement for the show. It was like Christmas morning for Wilco fans. The lights went out and the band strolled on stage to the “Price is Right” theme to a thunderous applause as if the crowd had just won the showcase showdown.

The first three songs, “Wilco (The Song)”, “ A Shot in The Arm” & “Bull Black Nova” set the tone for the entire evening. Raw energy may be the only way to describe the emotion the band played with. You could tell that they were glad to be home.
Guitarist Nels Cline was a mad scientist on stage, not straying far from his rig the virtuoso played with such fury that I wondered how his guitar strings didn’t break all at once. During “ A Shot in The Arm,” the guitarist repeatedly swung his guitar at this amp missing by mere inches, while keyboardist Mikael Jorgensen beat his keyboard with no regard for the instrument.

Predicting Jeff Tweedy’s mood at a show is about as easy as picking the winner of the Kentucky Derby. You just don’t know who is going to show up. It was evident from the beginning that he was very happy to be home. Tweedy took every opportunity he could to poke fun at his bands arena rock status. Before launching into the somber “Deeper Down,” Tweedy introduced the song as an arena rock song.

The guitar solo in “Impossible Germany” is becoming folklore among Wilco fans. From the opening riff, the excitement immediately builds for the blissful guitar explosion. This version would not disappoint as Nels took the song by the horns while adding a touch of jazz to the frantic solo.

“I’d like to dedicate this song to the 200 people here tonight who weren’t on our guest list. I guess we could’ve played Schubas,” proclaimed Tweedy before “Hate it Here”. I got the sense that even though Tweedy might not be comfortable with playing that large of a venue, he clearly appreciated the crowd. Wilco closed their set with “I’m The Man Who Loves You”, a tune that Tweedy dedicated to his wife.

After a very short break the band reconvened for an encore that left fans wanting more. “Just a Kid” was dedicated to Tortoise, who opened the show. The Chicago natives took full advantage of their opening slot, and got crowd moving with some inspiring music. Tortoise hasn’t reached the level of popularity that Wilco has, but for the last twenty years have been a force in not only the local music scene, but worldwide.

The encore continued with a
raucous version of “Monday”, which quickly segued into the upbeat “Outtasite (outta mind)”. Guitarist Pat Sansone showed his guitar chops off with a guitar duel that had people watching in awe as he and Nels Cline during traded licks during “Hoodoo Voodoo”. The band kept things rolling with the final song “I’m a Wheel”.

Wilco was welcomed home with open arms, and delivered a set that had people buzzing. The band showed much love to their fans, and I can honestly say on behalf of the entire crowd that the feeling is mutual. Chicago truly loves Wilco.

Thanks to the folks over at Glide Magazine for publishing my review.

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