By the time Wilco got to song number eight in what would end up being a 30-song performance at Bass Concert Hall early October, it was difficult not to stand up and raise hell. It just took a while for everyone to get there.
When the band took the stage, most of the crowd was sitting and only a few brave souls were standing. It was like no one could figure out what to do in a decidedly non-Wilco venue that’s more ballet than alt-rock. Frontman Jeff Tweedy finally commented, joking, “It’s been a long time since we played to a sitting audience. We’re going to play all of our slow, sad songs for you – and we have a lot – but you might be late for work tomorrow and lose your job if we play them all.”
Set against a backdrop of huge, dreamily-lit trees, giving the impression of watching Wilco in someone’s (very nice) backyard, the band filled up the stage. Lined mostly in a row instead of the usual packed cluster, the band included 6’5” guitarist Nels Cline, keyboardist Mikael Jorgensen, vocalist Tweedy, drummer Glenn Kotche (who is clearly the straw stirring the drink in this ensemble), bassist John Stirratt, and multi-instrumentalist Pat Sansone. The thoughtful configuration also made it easy to check out Wilco’s considerable musical prowess from any seat in the house.
The band started off with newer tracks from the recently released “Schmilco,” as well as a few from “Star Wars” and “Art of Almost,” but the first part of the show didn’t pack quite the energy this crowd needed to get on their feet. By the time the band launched into “Pot Kettle Black” about an hour in, it was hard not to stand up and groove along with the rest of the set.
The sweet, acoustic “Passenger Side” from the band’s debut release (1995, “A.M.”) brought still more to their feet, and “Box Full of Letters” (also from “A.M”), got them the rest of the way, until the end of the show. Wilco took advantage of the crowd’s energy, covering such favorites as “Via Chicago” and “California Stars.” By the time it was over, after two encores, Tweedy was happy. “When I came out, you looked like an oil painting. What a transformation! Thanks, Austin – you’re always the best.”
Local favorite Bob Schneider kicked off the night with a 40-minute solo acoustic set – and he made it clear he wasn’t quite thrilled that many of the seats were still empty. “I’m saving all the good songs for when everyone else shows up – they’re all at the bar,” he joked after kicking off the set with the raunchy “Fist City,” which sounded even dirtier performed with only an acoustic guitar. The rest of Schneider’s set featured a range of tunes from an extensive catalogue, including “I Can’t Change Your Mind,” “The Hours and Days,” “The Effect,” and “Dirty Feeling.” Noticeably absent were “the good songs” – such radio favorites as “40 Dogs (Romeo & Juliet),” “Big Blue Sea,” “Captain Kirk,” “Metal & Steel,” and “Come With Me Tonight.” But this crowd, in their cush seats, didn’t seem to mind.
WILCO SETLIST You Are My Face; If I Ever Was a Child; Cry All Day; I Am Trying to Break Your Heart; Art of Almost; Pickled Ginger; Side With the Seeds; Pot Kettle Black; Passenger Side; Someone to Lose; Via Chicago; Bull Black Nova; Reservations; Impossible Germany; California Stars (Billy Bragg & Wilco cover); Forget the Flowers; Box Full of Letters; Heavy Metal Drummer; I’m the Man Who Loves You; Hummingbird; The Late Greats. Encore Random Name Generator; Jesus, Etc.; Hate It Here; Locator; Monday; Outtasite (Outta Mind). Second Encore Misunderstood; Spiders (Kidsmoke).
Amy Lemen is an Austin writer whose pennies earned from penning content go to a ridiculous live music habit, an awesome teenage daughter, and a cranky old Jeep. (She needs to write more.)