Thursday, June 18

From Nels Cline's wanker-bar burst in Wilco's opening song, "Hell Is Chrome," to Jeff Tweedy's hilarious, microphone-hurling, rock-star posturing in the first-set closer, "Hummingbird," and the fan-pandering "Kingpin" crowd-coaching in the encore, lucky ticket holders for the sold-out show at Centennial Hall had a night of first-rate rock.

There are some who have actually groused that on their way to becoming global rock icons, Wilco may have become too good at it. The show was technically flawless, with pros at the helm on every level: the light-show spectacle, the impeccable sound (as contrasted, especially, with the sound provided to openers Grizzly Bear, who deserved better), the busy legion of instrument techs, even the flotilla of guitars. Wilco's got the gears in motion to dominate the world of rock—record sales pending.

A.M., the band's 1995 debut, and the two Mermaid Avenue works were the only albums that the set didn't touch. This is so not that Wilco anymore. The 25-song romp was dominated by selections from Wilco's upcoming release, Wilco (The Album), and their wildly popular 2002 Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, with only 10 songs taken from their other records.

In the second song, "Handshake Drugs," Tweedy made a show of signaling a three-guitar attack, as if to say, "Check this out." (His joy is apparent whenever Nels Cline is his guitar foil.) The spectacle of the arrangement, performance and light show made it hard to imagine how the rest of the set could top it. But 10 songs later, the answer came within the homesick acoustic ditty "Via Chicago." As Tweedy sang, the rest of the band repeatedly interrupted with the racket (and bright, flashing lights) of airplanes taking off and landing. You had to be there.

The exercise of everyone swapping out guitars before and after "Black Bull Nova" was like watching a tire change at the Indy 500—entertainment in itself. But one fan in front had the most fun of the night: During the marathon "Spiders (Kidsmoke)," Tweedy played the lead while the rest of Wilco played the high-intensity vamp. Tweedy knelt down and allowed the fan to pluck guitar strings for a few measures, effectively making him the leader of a band that might one day achieve world domination.


More by Linda Ray

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