Of course Wilco was fantastic at Copley Sunday night.
Wilco is good. The Grammy-winning Chicago-based sextet has proven it time and time again in their nearly 18 years together. But there were plenty of moments during their exactly two-hour set at Copley Symphony Hall on Sunday night where they did some of the things that make them a whole lot more.
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There are only a few bands out there who could successfully start a sold-out theater-size show with a melancholy, meandering, 12-minute-plus album-closing opus. And Wilco not only pulled that off with show opener “One Sunday Morning,” the song was met with such rabid and raucous applause, it felt like it was the only choice they could have made.
Frontman Jeff Tweedy, dressed in a dark-blue Canadian tuxedo and tan fedora (one of the few people in the world who could actually wear that ensemble without it being a complete distraction), led the band on a stage completely draped in what looked like differently sized Kleenex ghosts that kids make around Halloween. The “ghosts” were used continually throughout the evening, with lights shining in them, on them and through them, while movies and strobes were projected onto them with regularity. White light and smoke spilled down from the ceiling of the darkened theatre, bathing the band in a perfectly hazy atmosphere while they alternated between the wall of noise and finely tuned pop that has come to define them.
Switching between electric/acoustic guitars and just singing, Tweedy didn’t address the crowd until after the fourth song in, simply asking, “Are you guys doing OK?” And staying true to his typical brevity, he followed that inquiry with a couple of routine niceties: “Glad to be in San Diego” and “Thank you.”
But then something happened. A song or two later, the typically not-too-conversational bandleader made an ironic joke that would mark the start of an ongoing dialogue with the capacity crowd that punctuated almost every song break that followed.
“Are you guys doing OK?” he asked again. “We don’t do a lot of talking these days. We have too many records. But our next record is going to be all talk.”
The joke got a big laugh, but no one in the house realized that was the moment when the floodgates opened.
When Nels Cline, the band’s absurdly talented guitarist, dressed in a blood-red button-down like the devil himself, came off of one of his many mind-blowing solos and then switched gears by sitting down to play slide, Tweedy was at it again.
“Nels Cline, everybody!,” he rallied. “You know, he’s from your state. And I just wanted to say that he didn’t need to sit down after that solo. I mean, he did, but I wanted to let you know that he didn’t have to.”
Before the band transitioned into the song “California Stars,” a tune taken from the Wilco-Billy Bragg collaboration Mermaid Avenue Vol. 1, Tweedy made an amendment to his earlier statement.
“OK,” he said, “Maybe when I said Nels was from your state, I should have said it before this song. Oh, well. Anyway, here’s this song.”
And as soon as the song was finished, he was back at it.
“Were you guys singing on that one?” he asked the crowd through a grin. “I couldn’t hear you. And that’s not a lead singer telling you that he couldn’t hear you to get you louder. I just really couldn’t hear you.”
In addition to the bonus of an unusually gregarious Tweedy, many of the classic Wilco live-show hallmarks were on display as well on Sunday: the talkative lead singer harmonizing with bassist John Stirratt and guitarist Pat Sansone, a clearly audible whole-audience sing-along during perennial favorite “Misunderstood,” Nels Cline ripping “Handshake Drugs” a new one, perfectly dead silence during songs like “At Least That’s What You Said.”
The band had no problems filling every last bit the cavernous, cathedral-like structure with songs from every one of their records while pulling 15 of the night’s 23 selections from The Whole Love, A Ghost Is Born and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.
But the night really belonged to Tweedy and his hilarious banter.
“Thank you very much,” he said at one point. “All of these songs were requested on the website -- except for the ones requested by us. And that’s a pretty high percentage.”
Later, Tweedy quipped, “We’re just going to keep playing until you leave. That’s just how we roll.”
The night’s most enjoyable section of small talk was centered around the song “Box Full of Letters,” from the group’s debut LP, A.M., as it got Tweedy talking about legendary local venue the Casbah.
“We might not have played this next song, since we played it at the Casbah,” he said to cheers. “Remember that place? [Louder cheering] Are they still alive? [Huge applause] “Awesome. Good for them.”
Then, Wilco launched into 10 seconds of the song before Tweedy pulled the plug and again addressed the crowd.
“That’s exactly what it sounded like at the Casbah. Sorry. One more time. I had the reverb on my guitar up really, really loud.”
And he was back at it again, immediately after.
“Hey, I want to be clear about something,” Tweedy clarified. “I wasn’t saying that the Casbah sounded bad all right? Don’t go tweeting that bulls---. I was just saying that was what we sounded like when we played the Casbah. We have nothing but fond, fond memories of the Casbah. As a matter of fact, we’re all going there right after the show. No, we’re not. Ok. We’ll see you there.”
As the band walked off the stage pre-encore, SoundDiego’s own Rosemary Bystrak chucked what I believe was her own Casbah sweatshirt onto the stage. When the band came back, Tweedy was holding it above his head.
“You want this back, right?” he asked. And when Rosey told him it was his, he attempted to tie it around his waist, before ultimately setting it down to finish the show.
“I’ll wear this later,” he said.
But the Casbah-centric dialogue wasn’t over.
“Now I’m starting to have my doubts,” he said during the encore. “I don’t think we ever played there. It may have been Uncle Tupelo. Well, it was fun while it lasted. Wait, [drummer] Glenn [Kotche] said we did, and he’s never wrong about anything.”
When the band finally did leave the stage at a minute after 11p.m., the standing ovation was so loud no one could have heard Tweedy, even if he did say something.
Instead, he just tipped his hat to the audience, waived his hand, and that was that.
- One Sunday Morning (Song for Jane Smiley’s Boyfriend)
- Poor Places
- Art of Almost
- I Might
- Muzzle of Bees
- Bull Black Nova
- At Least That’s What You Said
- Rising Red Lung
- Impossible Germany
- Open Mind
- California Stars
- Handshake Drugs
- Box Full of Letters
- Born Alone
- Jesus, Etc.
- Pot Kettle Black
- Dawned On Me
- Shot in the Arm
- Whole Love
- Heavy Metal Drummer
- Outtasite(Outta Mind)