Wilco proved (yet again) this year why they are one of the best live bands ever. I was able to catch two Wilco shows in one week this year. It was my attempt at the Wilco Double Up. I was was also finally able to catch the famed Chicago band in a hometown show, which was nice to cross off of my concert goals list.
One of the criticisms I’ve heard thrown at Wilco over the years is that some people label it as “dad rock.” You wish your dad was Nels Cline. When he uncorks solos like this on “Impossible Germany,” it will melt your face off of your face.
Like many great live bands, I respect that Wilco never play the same set/show twice. They will play some tracks you love, some songs you would never expect and some curve balls. The quality of Jeff Tweedy’s songwriting is best showcased at a Wilco gig, because you get so many songs from different eras of the band. Sometimes, they remind you how great some deeper cuts can be. They got really expansive on “One Wing” and covered the Uncle Tupelo song “New Madrid” at the Kansas City show. The Crossroads KC show also served as a great use of dynamics. The majority of the show was rocked out, fully electric. However, the encore was acoustic. This was a nice change in pace and made for a very well-rounded show.
After over 20 years, it would be easy for a band to rest on their laurels and phone it in. This is not the case with Wilco. Between the KC gig on Wednesday and the Pitchfork Music Festival set in Chicago on Friday, Wilco dropped their first album in four years Star Wars.
At the Pitchfork set, Wilco played the entire new album, released the day before, live for the first time. Playing a whole new album live is risky, but Wilco is constantly pushing forward and being innovative. The new songs have a looser, carefree quality. The sprawl of some of the new songs reminded me of Sonic Youth. The crowd seemed confused at first, but warmed up at the songs wafted through the Chicago breeze. They followed up Star Wars with a bunch of classics. Watching people freak out to “Handshake Drugs” in the summer sun can be a glorious thing.
Wilco had a big 2015. They showed why they are still one of the best live bands touring today by never settling, consistently busting out setlists that clear 25 songs, and always being willing to surprise. The shows are always solid and the sense of something unexpected happening can create so much joy. Even after over 20 years, it will be fun to see what the future holds for Wilco.