Friday, February 24, 2017

First Ever Full Show by Wilco at the Chicago Theatre Feels Quite Homey -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

w/ opening act The Flat Five
Chicago Theatre
February 22, 2017
(Also playing 2/23, 25, 26)

Some--whether regular readers of my reviews who know my tendencies on a @@@@@ scale, or those who attended Wednesday's Wilco concert and found it absolutely phenomenal--might see my @@@@ rating above and perceive that while I liked the show more than not, I have some gripes about it.

This wouldn't be a crazy thought, especially when it comes to the erstwhile Chicago folk-rock combo, who I've now seen as a headline act 11 times over the past 15 years and more often than not bestow @@@@ for their proclivity to keep their setlists more mellow and esoteric than I would prefer.

And such is pretty much the case once again.

Yet while @@@@@ or @@@@1/2 denotes a concert (or musical, play, opera, etc.) I loved to the point of urging others to attend at the next opportunity, per my Reviews Key at right @@@@ = Excellent, which I think of as a show I enjoyed and am entirely glad to have attended, just not one of the very best of dozens I see. 

This seems to be where Wilco fits in for me as a live act and--though I have more robustly rated and raved about shows where they've rocked out rigorously--I wouldn't want this taken as anything but a positive review. 

And I wouldn't even dare suggest Wilco should change anything to please me more.

By a band I very much like, this was an excellent concert, just to a @@@@ level rather than beyond. 

It was, however, made all the more special by being at the Chicago Theatre, my favorite local concert venue, with a good main floor seat at that (though I stood through Wilco's set with everyone else). 

Oddly, the quintessential Chicago band--though I prefer the Smashing Pumpkins at their peak--had only once previously played the glorious, 3,600-seat former movie palace on State Street, where they would seem to fit perfectly.

And that was just a guest slot on Late Night with Conan O'Brien in May 2006, where the evening's first guest on the visiting NBC show was a junior U.S. Senator from Illinois named Barack Obama.

No, I didn't remember that, but Tweedy did and mentioned it from the stage, in between genial appreciation for being "back home" and some mild, then harsher comments about our new President.

In his longest harangue on Wednesday, the singer and guitarist, who had gotten some online flack for remarks supporting basic human decency and dignity--seen by some as anti-Trump--said:

"If you voted for Trump, and don't want me to say anything about him, just remember, you voted for a reality TV star.

I'm going to say whatever the fuck I want to. We're going to persist and we're going to resist."

Formed by Tweedy 23 years ago, from the ashes of Uncle Tupelo (with Jay Farrar), Wilco continues to sell every ticket they put on sale in Chicago.

Wednesday was their first show of 2017, and the opening of a 4-gig Wilco Winterlude at the Chicago.

Tweedy joked that the band had to relearn songs they had last played "in a simpler time."

Opening the evening were The Flat Five, whose easygoing stylings were largely ruined by two dumb-asses behind me conversing loudly throughout their 40-minute set.

Then at 8:30pm, six months and a day since I had last seen them, on a February evening nearly as temperate as that August night under the stars at Millennium Park--accompanied now by a friend named Alison who happens to share my last name and is therefore a homonym with sister, who was with me then--the six members of Wilco took the stage.

I didn't give much thought to their opening song, "Ashes of American Flags" at the time, but given Tweedy's subsequent remarks about the times in which we now find ourselves, I doubt the selection was coincidental.

As referenced above, Wilco has a tendency to slow-groove for awhile, and though everything they played sounded good, the first half of the 24-song set was dominated by newer and/or lesser known songs, including from 2016's Schmilco album.

A couple of gems from 1996's Being There and 1999's Summerteeth--"Misunderstood" and "Via Chicago," the night's only representatives from my two favorite Wilco albums--were mixed in early, with the cacophonous thunder bursts of the latter soon leading to greater sonic excitement.

Some great guitar leads from Nels Cline powered a blistering end to "Impossible Germany," and it was great to hear "Box Full of Letters" from Wilco's 1995 debut A.M., "Heavy Metal Drummer," "I'm the Man Who Loves You" and "Hummingbird," among others.

Though I've heard them plenty of times, I was hoping for "Shot in the Arm," "Monday," "Outtasite (Outta Mind)," "I'm Always in Love" or some other early rockers in the encores, but I realize these are probably being spread out over the residency.

A terrific 10-minute romp through "Spiders (Kidsmoke)" seemed to end the evening, but I was delighted to see the band come back onstage for a closing "California Stars."

And even more so was my friend Alison, who had gotten married to the song Wilco composed with Billy Bragg to previously unheard music by Woody Guthrie.

That legendary folk troubadour never shied from mixing his social and political beliefs into his music, and Wilco seems content to travel a similar road.

Perhaps particularly when it brings them back home.

Wilco's show at the Chicago Theatre on Saturday, February 25, will be broadcast on WXRT and streamed worldwide on

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