Wilco, the quintessential homecoming show
April 6, 2017
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It all started with an Uber driver conversation.
Robert, our driver, said something along the lines of “I’ve picked up five people so far, must be a big show.” My mother and I were leaving a widely acclaimed Japanese spot, Momotaro, and were headed to the Wilco concert on Feb. 26 at the Chicago Theater.
The last of a four show Chicago sprawl, this Sunday-night concert was to be an epic finale. Wilco happens to be one of the first concerts I attended, at the young age of one-and-a-half. The band influenced me in my youth, guided me as an adolescent and is now a part of my emerging adulthood.
As soon as I entered the Chicago Theater, I saw a diverse bunch of people: babies, people my parents age, people my age and all in between. There’s something refreshing about attending a concert, or any public event, and seeing more than one demographic relating to whatever is being showcased — in this case, a Chicago band that has reached my generation and beyond.
The stage itself looked and felt like a page from a pop-up fairytale book. Green trees with wispy foliage were shown from multiple perspectives and encircled the band. This brought heightened nostalgia to the early childhood I associate with Wilco.
The opening band was enjoyable, but it was clear that the surrounding audience members, myself included, were eager to see the headliner.
The show started off with tracks from their newer albums such as “Normal American Kids” and “Cry All Day” off of “Schmilco.” These songs retained the distinctive alternative folky rock Wilco sound that is so recognizable from their earlier albums.
However, and for any lifelong fan, the greatest moments of the concert were during the songs that attendees sang along with lead singer Jeff Tweedy.
“I’m The Man Who Loves You” and “Heavy Metal Drummer” were two songs that at the age of eight, I frequently danced along to on my first iPod — quite embarrassingly and alone in my room at that. A probable annoyance to my mother, I proudly sung and nodded along with Tweedy.
After the soft melodic opening of “Impossible Germany” (off of “Sky Blue Sky”), guitarist Nels Cline brought on an intensified solo.
Other tracks such as “Via Chicago,” on “Summerteeth,” were a reminder of Wilco’s roots. The lyrics “I’m coming home, I’m coming home, via Chicago,” brought a concrete connection between myself and the band. Towards the end of the song, Cline continued the pattern of impassioned soloing. His strumming and picking became increasingly erratic and energetic as the solo went on. Though this sequence is played on the studio-recorded version, the intensity of a live performance was an unparalleled experience.
Tweedy brought about an inclusive atmosphere between songs when he discussed the present political climate. He discussed his father’s saddened reaction to the worrisome travel ban President Trump put in place and the current presidency in general. Those around me nodded in approval or clapped by the end of his touching speech.
At one point, an audience member asked what his shirt said. Tweedy gleefully responded with “Well it says, ‘We’re All In This Together. Except Trump. He’s A D***.’ No, seriously. That’s what it says.” The audience then laughed together in unison.
The encore began with crowd approval as the upbeat guitar riff from “Random Name Generator” filled the room. Before the second song of the encore, Tweedy mentioned that Wilco hadn’t played the next song at the previous Chicago shows. For him, this was the night that warranted its appearance.
It had to be a special tune, one that the crowd was deserving of. When the familiar, quite saddening and beautiful instrumental of “Jesus etc.” started, I felt myself almost tear up. If anyone in the audience had previously held back from participating throughout the concert, things changed with the verse “tall buildings shake, voices escape singing sad sad songs, tuned to chords strung down your cheeks, bitter melodies turning your orbit around.”
Though I’ve seen Wilco numerous times before, I hadn’t yet experienced this song live. This ended up being the most powerful singalong of the night.