Led by Jeff Tweedy, the band made the most of its 20 Monroe Live debut as it tours behind a new album while giving a nod to Wilco classics. Review, photos and set list.
Wilco is a band that refuses to be pigeonholed.
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These musicians are a shapeshifting force in indie music, having achieved their longevity and revered status by meticulously crafting each album into a unique artistic work, beginning with their sophomore effort, “Being There.”
In 2002, they shed the alt-country roots that were leftover from singer Jeff Tweedy’s previous band to release the critically acclaimed “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot,” followed by the similarly experimental “A Ghost Is Born,” which won the band its first Grammy.
Now, 11 studio albums and 25 years into its career, Wilco has continued to push the limits of what it can create. The band released “Ode To Joy” on October 4, and immediately jumped into a fall tour in support of the record.
On Monday, that tour arrived in Grand Rapids — in what could certainly be viewed as a long overdue appearance — and West Michigan’s Wilco fan base came out in droves, packing 20 Monroe Live to the brim with loyal fans both young and old. Monday’s show also marked Wilco’s return to the road after a week-long break from touring, and it felt like a proper welcome back to the stage.
“I think we’ll play here more often,” Tweedy remarked.
Opening band Deep Sea Diver played a strict half-hour set before surrendering the stage to Wilco, a winning combination of ambient textures and gritty alt-punk.
Wilco began its set with the quiet moodiness of “Bright Leaves” and “Before Us,” the first two tracks from “Ode To Joy.” The energy grew quickly from there as the audience sang along to the wonderfully weird and cryptic lyrics of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot opener “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart,” reaffirming the staying power of Wilco’s classics.
ONE EXTREME TO THE OTHER; FROM EXPERIMENTAL TO THE STRAIGHTFORWARD
The set list jumped from one chronological extreme to another, mixing in the sparse experimentalism of newer material with the carefree, straightforward country of tracks like “Forget The Flowers.”
There was representation from almost every album in Wilco’s extensive catalog, and at one point, the band even reached back to its 1995 debut with “Box Full Of Letters.” It was a callback to a simpler time in the band’s music, but it felt right at home alongside the more recently produced live staples like “Impossible Germany.”
Guitarist Nels Cline may feel largely absent from Wilco’s most recent studio output, but his instrumental prowess was on full display live. The band left plenty of room for Cline to shred indiscriminately all over the music, yet he never took the space he was given for granted, balancing his spastic guitar attacks on “We Were Lucky” with the sophisticated beauty of “Jesus, etc.”
Cline has a knack for creating unique, otherworldly sounds that steal the show just long enough to earn a roar of applause from the audience, while still employing enough restraint to avoid overshadowing his bandmates.
Fan-favorite “Via Chicago” took on a decidedly experimental mood, breaking out into wild, chaotic drum breaks that interrupted the otherwise quiet ballad. Not many bands could pull off this kind of trick without sounding like a complete mess, but drummer Glenn Kotche managed to steer the band back on course every time, even when everyone in the crowd had lost track of the beat.
Other highlights from the evening included the tumultuous melancholy of “Misunderstood,” a gentle, abbreviated version of “Reservations” and Tweedy’s voice-crack — and his hilariously honest acknowledgement of it — during “If I Ever Was a Child.”
“I think my voice just changed,” he told the crowd. “I meant to do that actually, this song is about puberty.”
After one fake encore and one real one that capped off the night with “California Stars” and “The Late Greats,” the band walked off the stage to the deserved cheers of a satisfied audience.
PHOTO GALLERY: Wilco, Deep Sea Diver at 20 Monroe Live
Photos by Anthony Norkus
1. Bright Leaves
2. Before Us
3. I Am Trying To Break Your Heart
4. War On War
5. One and a Half Stars
6. If I Ever Was a Child
7. Handshake Drugs
9. White Wooden Cross
10. Via Chicago
11. How to Fight Loneliness
12. Laminated Cat (Loose Fur cover)
13. Random Name Generator
15. We Were Lucky
16. Love Is Everywhere (Beware)
17. Impossible Germany
18. Jesus, etc.
19. Forget The Flowers
20. Box Full Of Letters
21. Everyone Hides
22. I’m Always In Love
24. I’m The Man Who Loves You
25. Hold Me Anyway
27. California Stars
28. The Late Greats
Copyright 2019, Spins on Music LLC