Photo by Kristen Norman
It turns out home is where the heart is. Completing a sold-out, four-night residency at the Chicago Theatre with a career-spanning set on February 26, Wilco’s return to the stage in 2017 (and first ever shows at the famed theatre) ended in fine spirits after a 28-song, double encore performance.
As expected of a seasoned band with 10 studio albums created over the last 21 years—the most recent being 2016’s Schmilco Wilco displayed flexibility and earnestness with a career-spanning selection of their material.
Opening with the crescendo of Sky Blue Sky’s “On and On and On,” the next three songs were taken from Schmilco. The run began with the pleasant hymn “Normal American Kids,” where Wilco leader Jeff Tweedy (in all black, with a white Stetson Open Road hat settled atop his braided pigtails) strummed an acoustic with backing only from guitarist Nels Cline, whose work is peculiar, taut, and dependable as always. The well-mannered guitar strummer “If I Ever Was A Child” and the chugging beat of drummer Glenn Kotche on “Cry All Day” recollect the years with acceptance before rolling into A Ghost Is Born’s “Muzzle Of Bees.”
But as much as they love showcasing their new material, Wilco unfailingly nods to their history. Even when they played Star Wars front-to-back during their previous tour, Tweedy and friends would still pummel through another sets-worth of older material to the delight of their fans.
“Bull Black Nova” shifted to the tragic and paranoid with its tedious, sharp rhythm and dark subject matter. After the song faded, Tweedy addressed the audience for the first time, saying, “I don’t like audiences,” as laughter rumbled in the theatre. “But I feel good about this, good about where we’re heading.”
They rambled through the set hitting mainstays like “Outtasite (Outta Mind),” “Via Chicago” and “Heavy Metal Drummer,” and hit some limp moments along the way. “A Magazine Called Sunset,” a deep-cut for die-hards from 2003’s More Like The Moon EP, fell on mostly unresponsive ears—save for the requestor of the song, Maki, a fan who traveled from Japan to see the show—while the quirky “Someone To Lose,” another Schmilco track, proved the audience was impatient for more archival numbers. Their loss.
Mikael Jorgensen led into “Art of Almost” with spacey keyboards accompanied by John Stirratt’s undulating bass line only to be eclipsed by a brazen assault of guitars. Multi-instrumentalist Pat Sansone plucked a banjo during a softened version of “Misunderstood” and came out of his shell (and his jacket) for “The Late Greats” and “Monday.” Wilco unearthed “I’m A Wheel” to close out the encore before topping off the night with the distortion-drenched “Spiders (Kidsmoke).”