Wilco is a band that formed in 1994 by Jeff Tweedy in the wake of alt-country progenitors Uncle Tupelo’s split, Wilco was the underdog to Jay Farrar’s Son Volt in the critic’s eyes. Both raced to finish their debut albums, and Tweedy got his A.M. out a full six months before Farrar released Trace by pulling a George Harrison and using mostly songs that didn’t make Tupelo albums. In the twenty years since, Wilco has created some of the most enduring music, critically acclaimed and with a huge fan following, and that’s what was being celebrated at the Capitol Theatre in Westchester, NY this week.
Playing a three-night residency, Wilco rocked through the past two decades, mixing in deep cuts, b-sides, and covers. In fact, because their back catalogue is so impressive, they didn’t repeat any song they played (save one), totaling 89 songs. On Thursday night’s show, Tweedy announced “if you’re waiting to hear something we played yesterday, you ain’t gonna hear it.”
The setlist from that night—the only night I was able to make it to—was, despite being culled from all over the place, full of crowd pleasers. Thursday night might as well have been called the Yankee Hotel Foxtrot night, playing more than half the album, including perennial favorite “Jesus Etc.” Tracks “Cars Can’t Escape” and “Laminated Cat” also come from the same era, and fanatics might recognize as “Rhythm” and “Not For the Season” off the Yankee Hotel Demos bootleg (both of which eventually received official releases).
One of the hallmarks of the residency was the inclusion of cover songs, something they’ve been doing more since their infamous set of covers at last years Solid Sound Fest. They played “Give Back The Key To My Heart” by Doug Sahm on the first and third nights. In one of my favorite moments of the entire second night, they played an all acoustic set that included covers of “True Love Will Find You In The End” and “Be Not So Fearful” harkening back to their “An Evening With” tour after Wilco (The Album), that had them playing three separate sets. They covered “Ripple” on the final night, a song oddly suited to the band and Tweedy in particular, although the audience did most of the singing.
But the highlight of the night for me was when John Stirratt sang “It’s Just That Simple” off of that first album from twenty years ago. In fact, other than Tweedy, he’s the only stable member of the band, coming with him from Uncle Tupelo. In all the times I’ve seen Wilco live, Tweedy always took back singing duties from Stirratt, but in celebrating their history, it was important that he sing his song, making for an extraordinary moment. It was also the only time I’d ever seen Jeff Tweedy play bass.
Wilco is a special band. Not many bands will go out there and play three different sets, covering 20 years of music. That could start out in their twenties, and rock harder in their 40s. To keep things interesting, never making the same move twice. That will have fans looking forward to the next twenty years.
People who were there knew how amazing those nights were. If you can make it to one of the residency shows in Chicago, do it. If you can’t, then you’ll have missed out on one of the best shows of 2014. Fortunately, Wilco won’t make you wait until 2034, Solid Sound is just around the corner.
Article by: Christopher Gilson