Nov. 22, 2000
Story by Tony BonyataWith tousled hair, wrinkled denim and looking like they just awoke from a nice, long nap, Chicago's second favorite band, alt-country rockers Wilco casually sauntered out to a packed house at the Riviera Theater last Wednesday as if they were sitting down for an extended family dinner instead of putting on a rock show. And on the eve of Thanksgiving their performance seemed befitting of the occasion when loved ones gather together for a relaxed feast.
Photos Courtesy Barry Brecheisen
"It looks like the entire front row is a family reunion!" exclaimed Wilco's singer / songwriter / guitarist Jeff Tweedy to the ecstatic sold-out crowd, referring to the familiar faces of his hometown audience.
Amidst an unpretentious, and almost embarrassingly understated stage setting, Tweedy, slackly garbed in khaki pants and denim shirt, led his band through early country inspired numbers that helped ignite the whole No Depression / alt-country movement some ten years ago, as well a serving up a healthy portion of their more recent pop related work from their 1999 breakthrough album, Summerteeth. And although their performances on a few of their own numbers were somewhat lackluster, the show got a spiritual lift from original folk hero Woody Guthrie. Pulling out a handful of songs from their brilliant Mermaid Avenue Volumes I & II, albums that paired Wilco and Billy Bragg's music with Guthrie's lyrics never before set to music, Tweedy, along with bandmates guitarist and keyboardist Jay Bennett, bassist John Stirratt, drummer Ken Coomer and accompanying guest guitarist / keyboardist, sparked.
Songs such as the raucous "Airline to Heaven," "Hoodoo Voodoo," "Feed of Man," which featured a menacing, soul-selling twelve-string acoustic slide from Bennett, and the touching "Remember The Mountain Bed" proved Tweedy and company to be the perfect modern medium to project Guthrie's spiked words of protest.
Although older numbers such as "Hotel Arizona," from Being There, and "Cajun Queen," from their debut AM, whetted the appetite of the faithful looking for older, more country-flavored material, it was the more mainstream songs from Summerteeth that spoke to the entire venue. From Bennett's piano, that turned from sumptuous ramblings to pesky pounding on"Shot in the Arm, " to the new hefty rhythm added to "I'm Always in Love," along with the gentle numbers "She's a Jar," featuring Tweedy's honest yet rudimentary harmonica, and the cozy "How To Fight the Loneliness," which fluffed the crowd's collective pillow, these were what the majority came to hear.
But as hard as the audience hugged and despite all the heartfelt sentiments, their host never really delivered a truly dynamic performance. From country-fried roadhouse jams that never caught on fire, to songs that let bandmembers slip into shameful and self-indulgent solos, Wilco left their guests with the feeling of a mediocre turkey dinner - full but not completely satisfied.
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