Wilco, Jonathan Richman: Tucson Convention Center Music Hall, Wednesday, Sept. 19

Ask Wilco fans about their favorite record, and they'll often answer Being There (1996) or Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002). The first effectively buried lead singer Jeff Tweedy's catalog of singable, 3-minute pop, and its bark in the recording studio. The second, for all the Internet innovations it launched, also helped reassure us that American music and culture abide, even with the wind knocked out of them. Like a semaphore, the twin towers of Chicago's Marina Towers apartments dominated the cover, humble but unbowed.

The band's website, wilcoworld.net, invites requests for each show, so it's no surprise that the audience heard the same attention given to older favorites as to songs from 2011's The Whole Love. Fans went crazy as Tweedy opened with "Misunderstood," and their sing-along when Tweedy got to the lyrics "Nothing! Nothing! Nothing!" was deafening. Tweedy swung from that mood directly into "Art of Almost," from Love, and continued to mix it up all evening, until everyone was dancing and singing.

That fans would give the show such a whole-body response was not a foregone conclusion. The concert hall helped give full throat to each musician's contributions to Wilco's lavish orchestrations. But no matter how textured the layers and hues of the arrangements were, there was no mistaking the performance for anything but a rock show. Drummer Glenn Kotche found what seemed like 100 beats per measure, and Nels Cline wanked the bejeezus out of his guitar, even with a sprained wrist.

Updated arrangements of material like "I'm Always in Love"; the rousing "Monday," which featured Tweedy's only rock 'n' roll scream; and the ballad "The Lonely 1" made them sound of a piece with new favorites "Whole Love," "Rising Red Lung" and "Born Alone."

"Laminated Cat" was a special treat, and the band talked politics with "War on War" and "Christ for President," the latter channeling Woody Guthrie. On the way in, fans passed a voter-registration booth.

Singer-songwriter Jonathan Richman and his drummer, Tucson music-scene legend Tommy Larkins, opened with broad humor, much dancing and songs of life in several languages.

More by Linda Ray


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