Review: Wilco goes country in Austin
On Friday Chicago rock band Wilco played a sold out official ACL after show at Stubb's BBQ in Austin that blew the minds of all who were present.
Wilco can basically charge whatever price they want for tickets. There are two reasons for this. The first is the fact that, for going on twenty years, the Chicago band has never released a single album that failed to impress their fans and keep their sound both refreshing and exciting, which brings me to the second reason. As they have grown and their sound has evolved, Wilco has managed to cultivate one of the finest concert experiences of any band. Their live shows are long, setlists are always changing, and songs are often reworked in a creative, spontaneous way. Fans of Wilco, who possess a level of obsessive band nerdism on par with Ween or even Phish, understand all of this and will do anything to bask in Wilco’s musical aura. When you consider all of that, fifty dollars for a Wilco show is actually reasonable. Those that were lucky enough to score tickets for the band’s show at Stubb’s (easily one of the smallest venues they will ever play) on Friday were once again reassured of their beliefs that Wilco may just be the best band ever.
The beauty of a Wilco show, besides the fact that it will often last between two and three hours with no set break, is that there is always an ebb and flow to the setlist that creates a unique personality for each performance. Seeing the band at a festival (unless it’s their own festival) is less than ideal, as they often stick to album versions of their well-known songs. At Stubb’s we were thrown a beautiful curve ball as the band kicked off the evening on the mellow side with a handful of their more country-influenced early songs that recall the days when the sound and memory of Uncle Tupelo was still very much a part of Jeff Tweedy’s musical identity. The shining moment during this portion of the show – and quite possibly my personal favorite song of the night – was the band’s cover of Doug Sahm’s classic tune, “Give Back the Key to My Heart,” a song originally recorded with Sahm himself on the final Uncle Tupelo album, Anodyne. As someone who has long worshipped Uncle Tupelo, Son Volt, Wilco, and especially Doug Sahm, this was that rare tear-jerking moment of the show.
If you have heard Wilco’s set from their own Solid Sound Festival earlier this summer you know that they are truly masters of the cover song, which was confirmed once again with a perfectly played rendition of the Rolling Stones’ “Dead Flowers.” Adding to the general country-esque feel of the first nine songs was the addition of guest fiddle player Richard Bowden and guitarist Nels Cline’s choice to play pedal steel guitar on many of the songs, giving them that sentimental twang. The country portion of the show culminated in another special moment when bassist and original member John Stirratt stepped up to the mic for “It’s Just That Simple,” plucking the heartstrings of nearly everyone as he sang with a passion and vocal style that brought to mind The Band’s Rick Danko.
John Stirratt and Richard Bowden
From there the band brought up the energy and returned to their later work with fan favorite “Handshake Drugs,” which featured a well-executed, searing guitar solo from Nels Cline. Several songs later Cline would step out once again on “Impossible Germany,” channeling his inner Blue Oyster Cult and somehow elevating what is already one of the best guitar parts of any song ever made. On “Art Of Almost” the band dabbled in the psychedelic with a trippy, almost industrial sounding intro before losing themselves in a group jam and plateauing into the fun, upbeat “I Might.” The set continued as a tour de force of the band’s later and often more experimental work with songs like “Whole Love,” “Heavy Metal Drummer,” and the always rocking “A Shot In The Arm.” The six-song first encore felt like a bonus set, and the band wrapped up the nearly three-hour extravaganza with two of their most “rock and roll” songs, “Casino Queen” and “Hoodoo Voodoo,” leaving the stage to massive applause. Earlier in the show Jeff Tweedy thanked the audience for singing along, remarking, “It’s really humbling to have an audience like you.” He showed his gratitude when he returned to the stage one last time to play the quiet, acoustic tune, “The Lonely 1,” ending the night on a relaxed high.
Wilco’s fans are devoted and, for better or worse, always paying attention to exactly what their favorite band is doing. Something in the lyrics and music connects in such an emotionally deep way that it gives fans a sense of ownership. With that in mind, it is safe to say not a single die-hard fan left Stubb’s disappointed on Friday night. One fan may have summed it up best with a comment on the band’s website when he described the show as a “Wilco geek dream set. As good as I’ve ever seen them.” I couldn’t agree more. -Neil Ferguson
Someone Else's Song
Blood of the Lamb
Give Back the Key to My Heart (Doug Sahm cover)
Forget the Flowers
Dead Flowers (The Rolling Stones cover)
It's Just That Simple
Art of Almost
Laminated Cat (Loose Fur cover) Radio Cure
I'm Always in Love
Heavy Metal Drummer
Dawned on Me
A Shot in the Arm
I'm the Man Who Loves You
I Got You (At the End of the Century)
The Lonely 1
Review by Neil Ferguson. Photos by Arthur VanRooy.
This article was originally published on The Horn, an online news website based out of Austin, Texas. Check it out at readthehorn.com! Neil Ferguson is the Media/Music Editor.