Wisconsin has always had an inferiority/superiority complex with Illinois, or more specifically Milwaukee with Chicago. We really like to stick it to their sports teams, their politicians, and their highbrow standards. We’d like to think we’ve got it pretty good and that it’s easy living to the north. Hailing from the Windy City, Jeff Tweedy and Wilco don’t really seem to have a bit of a problem with their brethren to the north as indicated by the whole weekend they just spend in Eau Claire and Milwaukee. In fact, they might even like it better but won’t admit it (Jeff’s son goes to school in Appleton).
Their show at a sold out Riverside Theater was clear indication that Milwaukee is a place dear to their hearts. Even with their opening song “Via Chicago” as maybe a bit of an odd segue, the band pulled out all the stops. Admittedly, Tweedy indicated that they were “Through the woods now,” and were ready to move past the sad songs. That was indeed the case. The show began to soar once they hit “Art of Almost,” jamming it out with psychedelic riffs and effects. This is a band that really was “experimental” in their Yankee Hotel Foxtrot era and has really started to reinterpret both new and old material of late. Of course, they remain deeply rooted in their Americana sound with standouts like “Hummingbird” and “The Late Greats” as a set closer.
Some bands would call it a day after heading back for one encore, but this is not some band. So for Wilco’s first encore, they began with “California Stars” and were joined by Kacy and Clayton, the opening act hailing from Saskatchewan, Canada. Clearly the members of Wilco were pleased by their presence. You could see the enjoyment on the band’s faces and the respect they had for this talented folk outfit. They really let them take center stage, and deservedly so. The energy continued as they finished the first encore with the duo of “Spiders (Kidsmoke)” followed by “I’m a Wheel.” The former has been given palpable new life in the past year, with intricate jams and some crowd participation which has certainly been a highlight for many at recent Wilco shows.) After briefly catching their breath, they returned for a second encore of “Monday” followed by “Outtasite (Outta Mind), ending the concert on a high energy climax.
Wilco could have made a swing through Milwaukee on fumes, having played just about every combination of bandmate arrangements and every collaboration with other bands while at the Eaux Claires Music Festival. But they are Wilco. Masters of their craft. Consummate professionals. They clearly carried the energy of collaboration with them. Maybe they were just hitting their stride before they moved on to their own Solid Sound Festival. Either way, we were given a gift in Milwaukee.