Wilco are probably not trying to break your heart

By Sam Robertson

Promoting their new album “Sky Blue Sky,” Wilco performed with Andrew Bird at University of Minnesota’s Northrop Auditorium on Wednesday Oct. 10. Andrew Bird opened with his band, which was a rare treat as his band only backed him on one other show on this tour. Bird played around with a multi-track system, looping violin, guitar, whistling, mandolin, and glockenspiel on top of each other over the melodies of Martin Dosh’s keyboard and drums and Jeremy Ylvisake’s bass. Watching Bird was like watching a scientist at work, and all of his experimenting was flawless during a brief but fun set. Right after Bird wrapped up, Wilco set up their gear surprisingly quickly and started their brilliant set very promptly. The current version of the band consists of Jeff Tweedy on guitar and lead vocals, John Stirratt on bass, Nels Cline on lead guitar, Glenn Kotche on drums and percussion, Pat Sansone on keyboards, guitar, and percussion, and Mikael Jorgenson on keyboards. As frontman Tweedy admitted in a recent interview, “For us, there’s never been a better time; there’s never been a better feeling on stage. This version of the band has felt so great for the past three years [and] we finally have our own record of music that we all made.”

Out of all six members, Tweedy and Stirratt are the only ones who have been in the band since their first album was released. The rest of the band has always been a revolving door of talented musicians who somehow find themselves on the wrong side of Tweedy’s domineering leadership and out of the band. Tweedy still writes and sings all of the songs, but Wilco has a special, balanced group chemistry that hasn’t always been there. With the fresh faces in the band and Tweedy overcoming his serious addiction to painkillers, it seems like a new golden age for Wilco.

The show was heavy on songs from their new album, “Sky Blue Sky,” which has a roots rock sound reminiscent of The Byrds, The Band, and Little Feat; a departure from the experimental sound of their two previous efforts, “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” and “A Ghost is Born.” Wilco opened the concert with a reworked version of “Sunken Treasure,” a beautiful, soft, overlooked country rock song from their second album “Being There.” They continued with the country rock style by playing terrific versions of “You Are My Face” and “Side With the Seeds” from their new album.

They followed that with a trifecta of songs from “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot”- “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart,” “Pot, Kettle, Black,” and “War on War.” During these songs, Tweedy charmed the crowd with his passionate singing and catchy acoustic guitar, while Nels Cline fought conventional guitar styles with some crazy avant-garde guitar work that plunged deep into space. Wilco was really starting to get into the show and Tweedy challenged the crowd to do the same, saying, “This is a rock concert, why are you guys all sitting down? Jeez, rock concerts sure have changed.”

That short segment describes the magic of Wilco’s show pretty well. Tweedy’s voice was in fine form and he was in a great, animated mood, bantering with the crowd much more than I expected. Cline’s guitar playing was a constant highlight and he left the crowd stunned after each solo. He combines supreme technical skill with a passion for exploring different sounds and gives the band an improvisation side that was missing before he joined. Tweedy and Cline demand most of the listener’s attention, but that doesn’t mean the rest of the band slacks off. They provided a strong base for Tweedy and Cline to perform their guitar fireworks on top of.

And there were plenty of flashy guitar solos, especially during “Handshake Drugs” and “Impossible Germany.” During those songs, Sansone got up from his keyboards and strapped on a guitar joining Tweedy and Cline in a three-guitar attack. With Tweedy and Sansone urging him on, Cline’s solos were filled with magnificent peaks that were the biggest highlight of the show.

After closing the set with an older song, “A Shot in the Arm,” Wilco came back out for a lengthy and nostalgic encore. Almost all of the songs in the encore came from their sorely underrated 2nd album, “Being There.” Jeff Tweedy’s old bandmate, Gary Louris, who is from Minneapolis, even came out to play lead guitar on “California Stars.”

Finally, Tweedy announced that they were running out of time but that they’d play one more song for as long as they could. In true rock and roll fashion, they launched into a lengthy version of “Spiders” and didn’t stop until they had played past closing time by several minutes. For them, music doesn’t seem like a business, but just a fun passion It’s heartening to see that Wilco really are one of those rare bands who are all about the music, not the money, and have remained genuine and completely uncorrupted by their success.