Wilco’s performance at the Wang last night was by far the shortest headlining set I’ve seen from the band in years. It also happened to be one of my favorites.
The setlist was just north of half the number of songs the band performed during an epic, 39-song set at the Orpheum during its 2010 “Evening With” tour, and it was refreshing to experience a concise, well-paced night that was light on traditional Wilco live staples and heavy on songs from its new album, The Whole Love. (Stream it on NPR until it hits stores next week.)
Early on, it seemed like the band might peak very early as standout Whole Love opener “Art of Almost” and the intense one-two punch of “Bull Black Nova” and “At Least That’s What You Said” bookended a short run of more subdued selections. “Sunday Morning” seemed like it might stretch on all night – and, from its reaction, the crowd wouldn’t have minded – as Wilco eased into a steady mid-set groove that also featured the night’s obligatory obscure bust-out (“Shouldn’t Be Ashamed”) and foremost sing-along (“War on War”).
The end of the main set met the intensity of the opening and, perhaps, one-upped it. Jeff Tweedy and Nels Cline wore matching ear-to-ear grins as they met stage right for a dueling guitar-feedback breakdown to close out an epic “Handshake Drugs,” then Tweedy took a break to towel off while his counterpart stretched out one of the most gorgeous guitar solos of the last decade during “Impossible Germany.” A straight-ahead take on new rocker “Dawned On Me” followed and a bruising “Shot in the Arm” closed the main set, with Mikael Jorgensen nearly tearing his rig at the back of the stage to the ground.
As the band re-emerged, Tweedy declared, “Let’s rock the shit out of this encore.” And rock it they did, scratching “Jesus Etc.” and “Via Chicago” from the setlist and racing through “The Late Greats,” “I’m the Man Who Loves You,” “Monday” and “Outtasite (Outtamind)” as curfew descended on the theater district.
Nick Lowe’s solo set to open the show was a serious treat that was met with overwhelming approval from the sold-out crowd.
Art of Almost / I Might / Black Moon / I am Trying to Break Your Heart / One Wing / Bull Black Nova / At Least That’s What You Said / One Sunday Morning / Shouldn’t Be Ashamed / Whole Love / War on War / Born Alone / Handshake Drugs / Impossible Germany / Dawned on Me / Shot in the Arm // The Late Greats / I’m the Man Who Loves You / Monday / Outtasite (Outta Mind)