Wilco: 19 October 2009 - UIC Pavilion, Chicago

Words and Pictures by Allison Taich

Last week was Wilco's homecoming, the capstone to their North American tour if you will. The two Chicago shows were the first shows the band had played here since the release of their latest,Wilco (the album). They were also the climax of their US tour and nothing short of epic.

Chicagoans tend to be passionate, devoted, and often defensive about all things Chicago--especially when it comes to music. Wilco is amongst the many popular rock acts to spawn from the city but they are, more or less, the city's preeminent group. Their stature alone was intimidating in attempting to write the perfect, if not acceptable, review for a truly stellar show.

Taking the stage to the Price is Right theme song prompted a welcoming eruption from the crowd. The band, humble and awkward in the shadows of their music, made few attempts to acknowledge their fans, with the exception of a nod and wave here and there. Beginning with “Via Chicago” got the evening off on the quiet side, calming the audience into a deep sway and sing along. In the midst of the tune’s pick-up, guitarist Nels Cline spontaneously deviated from the song, embellishing with guitar god licks. Key player Mikael Jorgensen followed his freakout with one of his own, which then prompted drummer Glenn Kotche to follow suit. The chain reaction completely inverted the feel and pace of "Via Chicago," catching the audience off guard and stimulating them.

It wasn't until the seventh song, “I am Trying to Break Your Heart,” that lead vocalist Jeff Tweedy acknowledged the audience. He gave his praise, hinted at setlist possibilities, and pointed out familiar faces from the night before. He also flattered us by claiming to recognize the current crowd's superior coolness. (The real test of the audience’s coolness was when Tweedy flung a shiny new vinyl copy of A.M. into the floor seats, without a massive fight erupting.)

The setlist, as extensive as it was safe, featured at least one song from each Wilco record. Songs mostly followed their recordings, minus some embellished feedback and distortion here and there, enabling the night to become one massive sing-along--of which "Jesus, Etc." was the most impressive, with Mr. Tweedy conducting the crowd and mouthing the lyrics like a middle school choir director. Predictably, we all passed his test, confirmed by a thumbs up sign at the end. (Aapparently he did the same thing the night before.)

“Can’t Stand It” strongly featured Jorgensen’s piano lines as they became the center of the song, dominating with movement, style and conviction. After the the song, though, the band’s sound went astray as the suspense of what was to come increased: Kotche utilizing a gong that was perched behind his drum kit; tambourine shakes from multi-instrumentalist Pat Sansone. As Kotche put the gong to rest, however, Tweedy was prompted to stop his accompanying dramatics and playfully lecture Kotche for more gong. Instead, with pure stamina, Kotche balanced over his drums, ignored Tweedy’s request, and jumped in the air, landing on his stool in perfect time for “I’m the Man Who Loves You.” The sequence was truly electrifying, seemingly launching the band into arena rock mode.

By encore time Tweedy had the audience eating out of his hand, waving and clapping their hands at his command. “Clapping is good for your arms and for your soul!” he shouted.

The two-and-a-half hour, 29-song set list concluded with some of Wilco's seminal twang, bassist John Stirratt taking the lead with “Casino Queen.” He kept the arena pumped right through the transition to “Outtasite (Outta Mind).” Leaving the show there was an overwhelming sense of satisfaction, excitement, and pride in the air. Hopefully it will not be long before Wilco returns home and dazzles Chicago all over again.





The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.


The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.


Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.


'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.


'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"


Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.


The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".


GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".


Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".


Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.


Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.


The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".


Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.


Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.