People who complain about how much music sucks today need look no further than Wilco to have their arguments squashed. While other bands have shot to superstardom and either flamed out or comfortably nestled in mediocrity, the Chicago-based band has steadily chugged along, sneakily becoming one of the most important American rock bands around. Despite that, the members of Wilco still maintain a relatively low profile. Five of the six guys are married and, when not on the road, frontman Jeff Tweedy leads a regular life as a middle-aged dad out in the suburbs of northern Chicago.
Over the course of nearly two decades, these regular-guy rock stars have cultivated a dedicated fan base that loyally turns out in droves for Tweedy and Co.’s live shows. Their show last Saturday night at the San Jose Civic Auditorium, where Wilco played the first of four sold-out Bay Area shows, was no exception. The crowd was an odd mix, dominated by older, longtime fans with younger, standard hipsters sprinkled in between.
Wilco kicked off the night with “One Sunday Morning,” the contemplative 12-minute closer of their newest record, “The Whole Love,” before kicking it up a couple notches with the frenetic, water-droplet sounds of “Art of Almost.” At 20 minutes into the set, the guys had only made it through two songs. Opening with the lengthy, elegiac “Morning” and following it up with the experimental “Almost” was a bold move that served as a further testament that, at this point in their career, Wilco’s all about the music. They’re willing to forgo conventions in favor of indulging fans with the intricacies of their craft. Just listen to the plaintive twinges of Nels Cline’s guitar during “Morning.”
Columns upon columns of knotted white fabric hung from the stage’s grating, which at first looked like the attempts of multiple inmates to escape from prison. However, the cloth caught the kaleidoscopic lights in unusual ways, immediately changing its effect from confounding to entrancing.
Wilco’s genre-melding career has spawned a diverse catalog, from the bluesy flair of “Side with the Seeds” to the twangy groove of “California Stars.” Fans stomped and sang along to old favorites, such as “Box Full of Letters” and “I’m Always in Love.” Tweedy and Co. only dipped into their seminal record “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” twice, with tender treatments of classics “Jesus, Etc.” and “War on War,” neither of which has lost its verve in the decade since they were first released.
The band banged out a respectable 23-song set, peppered here and there with self-deprecating banter and corny jokes from Tweedy. High points included the deceptively buoyant “Born Alone” and “Capitol City,” whose playful whimsy was balanced by the longing of Tweedy’s voice.
After whipping out flickering, four-part harmonies during “Whole Love” and the almost honky-tonk bounce of “Walken” in the encore, Wilco drew the night to a close with a whirlwind, energetic rendition of “I’m A Wheel.”
Indie upstart White Denim opened for Wilco with a brief set that started out with the achiness of a subpar Bon Iver, but eventually hit its stride when they let their funkiness emerge on “Keys.”