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Concert review: Wilco at Red Butte Garden

by on June 26, 2012

Wilco is a band that is regarded with such overwhelmingly positivity from most of the rock-critic set that it can be a little off-putting.

Of course, once one sees Wilco on stage instead of simply listening to the sextet’s albums–which range from the straightforward alt-country of their debut A.M. to more experimental A Ghost Is Born to their latest, The Whole Love, that lands somewhere in between–it’s hard to dispute any superlatives thrown at leader Jeff Tweedy and his charges. A Wilco concert is a visceral rock ‘n’ roll experience, and that was never more true than at the band’s sold-out show Monday at Red Butte Garden.

Coming on the heels of two shows at Colorado’s Red Rocks, Wilco’s Red Butte show was a savvy mix of new and old, offering plenty of songs the band didn’t play on their last Utah visit in August of 2008. The band challenged the audience with extended workouts on some songs, but rather than come across as excessive noodling, the live versions of the songs seemed like natural, improved renditions on their recorded versions.

In a ballsy move, Wilco opened the show with three songs from the relatively new The Whole Love, starting with the simple ballad “One Sunday Morning,” which on record stretches out to 12 minutes; it was at least that long Monday. From that someone delicate opener, Tweedy led the band into the album’s noisy art-rock opener, “The Art of Almost,” and from that moment on, including the pop-fueled “I Might” that ended the opening The Whole Love troika, Wilco delivered one transcendent performance after another for the better part of two-and-a-half hours.

The band was incredibly tight throughout. Even when they seemed to erupt into a cacophonous noise frenzy with no seeming direction, the musicians would suddenly stop or change directions on a dime, completely in tune with the other men on stage. Visually, they are a fun band simply to watch. Tweedy led from center stage, decked out in a suit jacket and striking hat for most of the night, while guitarist Nels Cline mesmerized with his aggressive riffing and bright red shirt. On the other side of the stage, multi-instrumentalist Pat Sansone delivered Pete Townsend windmills on his guitar when he wasn’t adding textures on keyboards.

As the show moved from daylight to darkness, the seemingly simple stage decorations that looked like bedsheets tied in knots and hung from the rafters turned into multi-dimensional props that reflected and refracted different colored lights and film strips projected toward the stage.

Underneath, the band simply killed every song it took on, from older favorites like “Misunderstood,” “Muzzle of Bees,” “Heavy Metal Drummer” and “Handshake Drugs” to songs from The Whole Love like “Born Alone” and “Dawned on Me.” Songs from Wilco debut A.M. and its follow-up Being There (1996) naturally met excited shouts from the audience, including “Box Full of Letters,” “Far, Far Away” and “Red-Eyed and Blue.”

Tweedy was charming throughout, whether greeting the people up on the hillside outside the venue, as he did back in 2008, or giving the seated minority in the VIP/sponsor seating in the middle of the lawn in front of the stage some grief for their apparent lack of enthusiasm. Late in the show, he got a little testy with an overzealous security guard trying to keep people from taking pictures, but overall the singer seemed happy with both the audience, and how his band was playing.

As well he should have been; Wilco was “on” all night. The first encore ended with a couple of songs from Wilco’s Mermaid Avenue project paying homage to Woody Guthrie–“Hesitating Beauty” and “California Stars.” And the second encore ended with rambunctious takes on “I Got You (At the End of the Century) and “Hoodoo Voodoo,” which included a Wilco crew member joining the band, shirtless and finely mulleted, to whack a cowbell along to the music.

It was a hilarious and somewhat bizarre capper on a near-perfect rock show. And as hard as it was to believe that it had been four years since Wilco’s last stellar Red Butte Garden show, there was no doubting that anyone who saw the band on Monday will welcome a return visit a lot sooner than that–like tomorrow.

The complete setlist:

One Sunday Morning>Art of Almost>I Might>Muzzle of Bees>Misunderstood>Impossible Germany>Born Alone>Far, Far Away>Handshake Drugs>Whole Love>Box Full of Letters>Pot Kettle Black>I’m Always in Love>Heavy Metal Drummer>I’m the Man Who Loves You>Dawned on Me>A Shot in the Arm
Encore 1: Via Chicago>Jesus, Etc.>Late Greats>Walken>Hesitating Beauty>California Stars
Encore 2: Red-eyed and Blue>I Got You (At the End of the Century)>Hoodoo Voodoo

One Comment
  1. Joselyn Awada permalink

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