Die-hard Wilco fans had a good weekend.
The band played nearly 50 songs across three nights at the Palace Theater. A handful of tracks from each of their 11 albums made the cut. 2016’s Schmilco was least represented, with “If I Ever Was a Child” only sneaking in toward the end of Sunday night.
That makes sense, though, since about a third of each set was taken from their most recent album, Ode to Joy (which they’re currently touring behind). Since both Ode and Schmilco are similarly low-key, it would have made for something of a dour show to include too many songs from both.
Ode to Ode
Somewhat surprisingly, the subtle, not-super-rocking songs from Ode to Joy came off pretty well live.
Wilco opened each night with the album’s first two songs, “Bright Leaves” and “Before Us.” They both showed the importance of drummer Glenn Kotche, whose heavy drumming provided essential power to the more downbeat material. The forceful chorus of “high for the people that have come before us” was especially affecting.
Of the other new songs they played, “We Were Lucky” was a major highlight. Although it sort of gets lost in the shuffle of other similar-sounding tracks on Ode, it absolutely rocked live. Kotche again was the star, stunningly pounding out the steady backbeat as the band fell in behind him recklessly.
Most of the other songs they played all three nights were essential live Wilco.
Summerteeth’s “Via Chicago” was given an insane arrangement. Wilco leader Jeff Tweedy and bassist John Stirratt (the only remaining original members of the band) played the moody folk song fairly straight, while the band behind them fluctuated between tender backing and a raucous cacophony of intense, random noise that was both jarring and beautiful.
Jam-y “Impossible Germany,” from 2007’s Sky Blue Sky, is becoming the band’s best live track. It gives a chance for guitarist Nels Cline to really stretch out, and the triple-guitar attack throughout is breathtaking.
Other nightly highlights included fan favorites “Jesus, Etc.,” “Hummingbird,” and “I’m the Man Who Loves You.”
The Late Greats
The deep cuts sprinkled into each performance were well-chosen, both as a good intro for new listeners and a nod to hardcore fans.
Brooding tracks like “Bull Black Nova” and an especially surprising “Laminated Cat” (a Yankee Hotel Foxtrot leftover that Tweedy later recorded with Loose Fur) showed Wilco’s intense, hypnotic side.
Early Wilco songs like poppy “Box Full of Letters” (from their 1994 debut AM), rocking “I Got You” and country-tinged “Forget the Flowers” (from 1996 follow-up Being There), and the pure power pop of “I’m Always in Love” (from 1999’s Summerteeth) showed the band’s diversity.
I’m sure that new listeners who might only know their more recent indie-flavored material were pretty surprised.
The Beginning and the End
The opening acts each night played well-received sets, and both joined Wilco during their encore.
Duluth legends Low opened the first two nights. They helped Wilco close out their set with a surprising and rousing version of Neil Young classic “Cinnamon Girl.”
Sunday night was even cooler, and even more unique. Amazing local singer and violinist Gaelynn Lea warmed up the crowd beautifully, in addition to adding some gorgeous violin to Ode to Joy standout “Empty Corner” (which hadn’t been played all weekend) and fan-favorite “California Stars” during Wilco’s encore.
At Least That’s What I Said
During their three-night stand at St. Paul’s Palace Theater, Wilco showed fans both old and new exactly why they’re one of America’s best – and most enduring – live bands.