Songs of crushing sadness, laments, waltzes and party-starting, mid-tempo rockers comprised a sprawling setlist full of musical gifts during night one of Wilco’s four night Chicago Theatre residency known as Winterlude. The sold-out Dec. 15 concert highlighted material from Ode to Joy – the group’s eleventh studio album which was released in October – and offered expanded renditions of fan favorites from Wilco’s 25-year career.
Wilco began its Winterlude run the same way as it did Ode to Joy with the slow-burning tracks “Bright Leaves” and “Before Us.” “One and a Half Stars” found bassist John Stirratt sharing harmonies with lead singer Jeff Tweedy as kinderklavier-esque sounds added innocence to each chorus. Later, the album’s lead single, “Love Is Everywhere (Beware),” unfolded with an effortless sweetness and “Hold Me Anyway” – which Tweedy said was written for this occasion – embraced the indescribable “poetry and magic” of finding love.
“How you doing, Chicago? We’re back home,” said Tweedy, who was met with cheers during the first of many humorous interactions with the crowd.
Later he asked, “Seriously, how’ve you been? Does it sound good?” Individual voices rose above the masses, which Tweedy appreciated.
“We like individual expressions of approval,” he said with a smile as many more fans took the opportunity to share their love. Elsewhere Tweedy added, “I’m happy that people in all corners of this establishment feel they are close enough to yell things at me.”
Many of the best moments of the night came when noisy, clanging, metallic tsunamis of sound accented some of Wilco’s stand-out tracks. Tweedy joined lead guitarist Nels Cline in a relentless, double-down guitar solo, making all the wrong notes feel right, on “Handshake Drugs.” Drummer Glenn Kotche navigated his kit with the ferocity of an animal (or like Animal from The Muppets fame) with several blistering solos on “Via Chicago,” while a cool, calm and collected Tweedy sang evenly, completely unfazed by the chaos swirling around him.
The first notes of “Impossible Germany” caused a celebration in the crowd that peaked as Cline unleashed an ultra marathon of a solo. If George Harrison’s guitar gently weeps then Cline’s brutally broods with intricate neck-work and cage-match strums.
The softer side of Wilco proved to be equally as enjoyable with venue-wide sing-alongs on “Hummingbird” and “Jesus, Etc.” At his most vulnerable, Tweedy sang just shy of acapella on the Yankee Hotel Foxtrot song of self-doubt, “Reservations.”
“Theologians” – dedicated to the frontman’s father-in-law for siding with him during family squabbles – and “I’m the Man Who Loves You” – dedicated to Tweedy’s wife, Sue, who he joked was probably mad at him from the “Theologians” dedication – were also wonderful moments during the Sunday night concert.
Wilco continues its Winterlude residency on Dec. 16, 18 and 19, the final night of which will be broadcast live on WXRT.
Check out photos from Night 1 of Winterlude – featuring show opener Robyn Hitchcock – below and head over to Wilcoworld.net for 2020 tour dates and more information.
(Photos by Laurie Fanelli)