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WILCO'S LONG-AWAITED RETURN

Last week, I was in Illinois, reminiscing about the only time I saw Wilco play live, with the two friends who accompanied me to the show (the then-girlfriends of two other friends). They were visiting me here from out of town at the time, and despite their attachments, they had been jokingly pseudo-stalking some cute guy they kept seeing around town.

It was their last night in Tucson, and they wanted to see him one more time before they left. We had already bought tickets to see Wilco at The Rock, and they asked where we should go after the show, which really meant, "Where's our crush going to be tonight?" My answer was the Airport Lounge, which was located in the basement of the Plaza Pub on Pennington Street (and which remains my favorite bar anywhere, ever).

It was Nov. 9, 1996, and Wilco had just released their second album, Being There. Compared to their debut, A.M.—a satisfying country-rock album that was a natural progression from Wilco leader Jeff Tweedy's former band, Uncle Tupelo—it was a huge leap forward. The band crammed one successful idea after another into its two discs. To this day, it remains my favorite Wilco album, and I couldn't have been more excited to see them play it live.

The band delivered on every front—but it's too bad the club didn't return the favor. After a brief opening set by The Handsome Family, Wilco blazed through one of the best sets I've ever witnessed. It was raw where it needed to be, yet polished when called for; band and audience alike were having a blast. After a transcendent version of Being There's opening salvo, "Misunderstood," during which Tweedy jumped into the audience, the band was unexpectedly done. The geniuses running The Rock at the time cut short the set to make sure that Wilco didn't disrupt their dance night, which began the second the band was done performing—never mind that no one was actually there to dance yet.

After most of the crowd had cleared out, the members of Wilco came over to where we were standing. They were bummed the set was cut short, but there was a bright side: "Hey, we get to go out," one of them said. "Where's a good place to go?"

Why, the Airport Lounge, of course!

After we said goodbye to Tweedy, who stayed behind (I may have kissed his hand in excitement), we piled into my Explorer, and Jay Bennett promptly lit a pipe, which got passed around.

We all had a great time at the bar—heck, my friends' boy-crush was even there—but, soured on the experience of having their set cut short, Bennett (who passed away last month at age 45) told me several years later that they vowed never to play Tucson again.

Cut to 2004, when Wilco was scheduled to perform at the Rialto Theatre, with Giant Sand opening. The show never happened. Instead, the tour was canceled so Tweedy could go to rehab for his addiction to prescription painkillers.

This week, thanks to the folks at the Rialto, Wilco will finally return to Tucson for the first time in almost 13 years, at UA's Centennial Hall.

An awful lot has happened since then. Wilco got so experimental that their label famously deemed 2002's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot not worthy of release. (The album went on, after being released on another label—owned by the same company, no less—to become their breakthrough album.) A film, I Am Trying to Break Your Heart, documented the making of the album, which coincided with the splintering of the band, largely due to increasing tension between Tweedy and Bennett, who was out of the group shortly thereafter. In fact, the only two members left from the version of Wilco that played at The Rock are Tweedy and bassist John Stirratt. But they picked up one hell of a guitarist, Nels Cline, and still boast a reputation as one of the nation's best live bands. They have a new album, Wilco (The Album), slated for release at the end of the month.

Opening the show is Grizzly Bear, a harmony-rich folk-rock band from Brooklyn whose latest album, Veckatimest, released May 26, unexpectedly debuted at No. 8 on the Billboard album chart. The group was originally scheduled to perform at the Rialto the same night as the Wilco show at Centennial, but at the behest of Wilco, they were made openers for the Centennial show.

A Wilco after-party at the Rialto—free with the Wilco ticket stub, $5 without—featuring Here We Go Magic and The Holy Rolling Empire is scheduled to begin at 11:45 p.m.

Wilco and Grizzly Bear perform at Centennial Hall, 1020 E. University Blvd., at 8 p.m. next Thursday, June 18. Tickets, which were not yet sold out at press time, are $32, and are available by calling 621-3364. The Rialto Theatre is located at 318 E. Congress St. For information on either show, call 740-1000. Both shows are all-ages.


SHORT TAKES

Peter Murphy, onetime singer for Bauhaus and now a solo artist—and the man to credit (or blame) for the goth-rock movement and its many subsequent gloomy baritones—climbs out of his coffin to perform at the Rialto Theatre, 318 E. Congress St., at 8 p.m., Tuesday, June 16. Advance tickets are available for $25; they'll be $2 more on the day of the show. Call 740-1000 for more info.

Nearly three decades after they formed in San Diego, Battalion of Saints, masters of speedy fuzz-punk, will perform on Friday, June 12, at the Surly Wench Pub, 424 N. Fourth Ave. The show begins at 9 p.m. with opening sets from Bricktop, The Uprising and Shootin' Lucy. For further details, call 882-0009.

Literary-minded Texas singer-songwriter Slaid Cleaves returns to Old Town Artisans, 201 N. Court Ave., with a band in tow, at 8 p.m., Saturday, June 13. In a live review of his last Tucson performance, in 2006, Linda Ray wrote, "Slaid Cleaves sings characters so real you could reach out and touch them—especially if you're sitting on a worn, vinyl-covered stool in a small-town bar, peeling the label from your Miller Lite. And brother, let me tell you, you only think you know heartache." Advance tickets are available for $17 at Antigone Books, Plaza Liquors and Enchanted Earthworks; at rhythmandroots.org; or by calling (800) 594-8499. They'll be $20 at the door. Call 319-9966 for more information.

Tucson favorites Viva Voce, who combine '70s rock, dream pop and shoegaze, return to Plush, 340 E. Sixth St., for a show on Monday, June 15. The show starts at 9 p.m. with openers Cut Off Your Hands and RCougar. $8; 798-1298.


ON THE BANDWAGON

America at Desert Diamond Casino on Friday, June 12; The Soul of John Black and Tom Walbank at Plush on Saturday, June 13; Keb' Mo' at the Rialto Theatre on Friday, June 12; Mr. Gnome, The Runaway Five and Sketching in Stereo at Plush on Friday, June 12; Saffire—The Uppity Blues Women (farewell tour) at Berger Center for the Performing Arts on Tuesday, June 16; Zachariah at Red Room at Grill on Wednesday, June 17; Combichrist at The Rock on Wednesday, June 17; Tom Brosseau at Plush on Wednesday, June 17; Heather Hardy and the Sand Rubies at The Hut on Saturday, June 13; DJ Vadim at Club Congress on Wednesday, June 17.

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