(Photos and review by Annie Zaleski.)
(Exclusive Wilco STL merch!)
Jeff Tweedy knows that Wilco is playing two more nights at the Pageant. I know this, because he asked the crowd how many were attending all three of the long-sold-out shows. After a giant roar went up, he asked how many were attending two shows. A slightly quieter bout of cheering occurred. The roar for those attending one night was slightly louder than the one for two nights – which compelled at least one audience member to justify his or her attendance (or, perhaps, the lack thereof).
“A babysitter?” Tweedy responded from the stage. “You’re not helping us with the dad-rock thing now!” The comment was likely a sly reference to last year’s Sky Blue Sky, whose easygoing amalgamation of twang, folk and classic rock is by far Wilco’s mellowest (and most NPR-friendly) album.
But dad-rock was an entirely inappropriate descriptor for Wilco’s first show in St. Louis since March 2006. The show felt more like a raucous tour-closing gig than one opening a three-night residency. In fact, with the sterling setlist choices and high-energy of the show, I’m curious to see how the band tops itself over the next two nights.
The set started off a bit slowly and lazily, with Being There’s “Sunken Treasure” – featuring Tweedy on harmonica, Neil Young-style -- and Sky’s “You Are My Face.” But the audience sprang to life and sang along loudly during the Beatles-like “Hummingbird,” whose jolly atmosphere inspired Tweedy to do a little bit of dancing/jigging onstage, to match a jaunty (almost theatrical) delivery of the lyrics.
From there, the show interspersed fine versions of old favorites (“Jesus, Etc.,” “Company In My Back,” “A Shot in the Arm”) with songs from Sky (“Impossible Germany,” “Walken”), striking a perfect balance between the familiar and the new. Despite the subtle shifts and morphs in mood and texture on each of its albums, the setlist demonstrated the innate cohesiveness of Wilco’s catalog.
Of course, the immense talent of the musicians onstage certainly helped the execution of older songs. Lanky guitarist Nels Cline (who sported funky black-and-red-striped socks with his boots) moved like a double-jointed puddle of quicksilver on stage right, as he played the lap-steel, twisted around like a kite or unleashed furious shards of noise (as on “Ashes of American Flags,” whose ending instrumental tangle was one of many highlights).
Drummer Glenn Kotche grinned behind a shock of long hair and (as usual) just looked ecstatic to be playing drums, xylophone and assorted bits of percussion; heck, before “I’m the Man Who Loves You” he stood up behind his kit like a triumphant Olympic medal winner and threw his hands in the air, as the spotlight shone upon him. Pat Sansone played the part of cool-as-ice collaborator on stage right – whether strutting with a guitar or adding classic bubbly organ -- while long-time Tweedy collaborator/bassist John Stirratt was a reliably wonderful harmonizer.
Above all, the sextet’s constant touring has made it a cohesive unit. At the end of “Misunderstood,” the band repeated the pounding, quasi-punk/metal call “Nothing! Nothing! Nothing!” around twenty times in perfect unison, creating delightful dramatic tension. An awe-inspiring, jammy “Spiders (Kidsmoke)” – which conjured the Modern Lovers, the Who and Sonic Youth at various times -- faded nearly into oblivion, before suddenly re-starting again at full volume. Bespectacled keyboardist Mikael Jorgensen pounded abstractly on the piano at the end of the incendiary highlight “A Shot in the Arm” – which also featured rave-like lighting to match Cline’s manic twirls – and “Impossible Germany” ended with a veritable guitar bro-down onstage, with solos and loud chords outdoing each other.
Still, Wilco’s pensive moments were just as rewarding, including a rustic version of “California Stars” and a soulful “Jesus, Etc.” And to the great delight of the audience, Tweedy dedicated a performance of the stripped-back Uncle Tupelo song “New Madrid” to his dad, who was in the audience and had requested it. (The elder Tweedy must be a fan of his son’s earlier work, as Jeff also dedicated the encore song “Passenger Side” – from Wilco’s first disc, A.M. – to his dad and his guests.) He didn’t play up his Belleville roots much, although he asked where he could get some “slingers” and before “Heavy Metal Drummer” asked the crowd if they still go to the Landing. When they screamed in the affirmative, he quipped:
Indeed. At least for the next two nights, the Pageant is the place to be in town. And note to those who couldn’t get tickets: I suggest going and hanging out by the venue over the next two nights. I saw several people legitimately trying to sell or give away tickets – but having no luck or takers.
Setlist: “Sunken Treasure” “You Are My Face” “Hummingbird” “Ashes of American Flags” “Company In My Back” “Handshake Drugs” “Pot Kettle Black” “A Shot in the Arm” “On and On and On” “Misunderstood” “Far, Far Away” “Impossible Germany” “New Madrid” (Uncle Tupelo) “Jesus, Etc.” “California Stars” “Walken” (?) “I’m the Man Who Murdered Love” “Heavy Metal Drummer” “I’m the Man Who Loves You” [fixed -- dept. of duh editor] “Heavy Metal Drummer”
Encore one: “Spiders (Kidsmoke)” “Hate It Here” "Kingpin" [also played, according to posters, and was written on setlist, as per here -- az]
Encore two: “Passenger Side” “Red-Eyed and Blue” “I Got You (At the End of the Century)” “Casino Queen” “Outtasite (Outta Mind)”