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Wilco @ Pitchfork Music Fest – Friday, July 17th

I have said for some time that Wilco is the finest band to come out of Chicago (take that, Corrigan) and their performance last night at the Pitchfork Music Fest was living proof.  The first half of the set was a live debut of their new album, Star Wars, which they released free via their website (and “Via Chicago”, I suppose) the previous day.  I had wondered myself, with the surprise release, if Wilco would be the next in line with bands like the Rolling Stones to play a particular album from start to finish live, although a brand new album might be tricky, I thought.  Clearly, Wilco were up for the challenge.

A seasoned Wilco fan could certainly tell these were new tracks as the energy of the band was a bit tighter than usual, a bit more on-edge.  It was cool to see Wilco as a band with the fresh energy of a group just starting out, albeit with the chops of a band who’ve been at this for decades.  They played the new disc start to finish and, despite the few complainers in the crowd, I thought it was excellent.  I am interested to hear what some of these tunes will sound like months from now when they inevitably shape shift into the fluid, effortless tracks that become staples of a Wilco live set.  “Random Name Generator” is a personal favorite I hope sticks around.

Wilco, individually, were delightful as always.  Glen Kotchke, who I spend 75% of every show watching, never disappoints behind the drum kit.  His snare drum had a little extra pop to it than usual and he did some really great triplet rolls that caught my ear.  Pat Sansone, multi-instrumentalist, channeled his inner Pete Townsend with some serious windmills and “Won’t Get Fooled Again”-era strutting on guitar.  Mikael Jorgensen on keys provided all the weird noises and ambiance one could hope for at a Wilco show.  Bassist John Stirrat kept the low end groovy and harmonized beautifully with Mr. Tweedy.  News Cline punished his guitar with an incredible solo during “Art of Almost” and did some great volume swells throughout.

Tweedy was Tweedy, cowboy-hatted, on-point and hilarious.  At one point in the show he noted fans throwing glow sticks in his half awkward, half charming manner of speaking.  “I see you guys are throwing around those glowing things…that looks like fun….until you get hit in the head with one”, he said before giving the crowd a disappointing finger wag.  It was hard to tell if he was joking or serious, but it was really funny either way.

The second half of Wilco’s set was packed with some gems from their back catalog.  As soon as they busted into “Handshake Drugs”, the first non-Star Wars track, it was clear Wilco were now back in their wheelhouse.  “Art of Almost” and “Via Chicago” were stand-outs among classics like “I am Trying to Break Your Heart”, “Impossible Germany” and “Heavy Metal Drummer”.  It was incredible to watch the layered, nuanced sounds of Wilco onstage with The El passing by the left of the stage, the Sears Tower on the right (what you talkin’ ‘bout, Willis?) and flashes of lightening over Lake Michigan in the distance.  The heat had broken, a cool breeze swept throughout Union Park and Wilco was firing on all cylinders…it was the pinnacle of a summer night in Chicago!

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With the night wrapping up, just before launching into their last song, Jeff Tweedy had some words for the crowd.  “It’s great to be home (raucous applause), you guys look good…you’re taking care of yourselves…good job”.

You too, Jeff.  You too.

Written by Alt360º Blogger: Jason Polakowski – Photos’s by Alt360º Photographer: Mikayla Price

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