BY YVONNE ZUSEL
If you’re one of those Wilco fans who loves their old stuff but hasn’t kept up much with the Chicago-based band’s newer output, the first 36 minutes or so of their Tuesday night show at The Tabernacle might have whipped you into a panic.
That’s because the band played their newest album, 2015’s surprise release “Star Wars,” in its chronological entirety to start their 2-hour-plus set, without the usual peppering in of hits — at first — to keep old-school fans placated. Lucky for those fans, then, that the album happens to be one of Wilco’s best in recent years, a tight collection of songs that frontman Jeff Tweedy and his bandmates nimbly rocked through against a backdrop of sparkling, multicolor LED lights.
Tunes like the jangly “Random Name Generator” and banger “Pickled Ginger” not only gave the band the opportunity to give a musical middle finger to anyone who might use that silly “dad rock” label to describe them (most dads — and most anyone, for that matter, would be lucky to rock this hard and write songs this tuneful), but it also established out of the gate the cohesiveness of the group, who have been playing in their current formation since 2004, when multi-instrumentalist Pat Sansone and guitarist Nels Cline joined the ranks.
Speaking of Cline (who, it’s worth mentioning, turned 60 last month), it’s his creative, jaw-dropping guitar chops that elevate an already great recorded song to something other-worldly in a live setting. He created an effects-laden soundscape on “You Satellite,” moved seamlessly to the lapsteel on “Taste the Ceiling” and, later in the show, a double neck guitar on the fizzy pop of “Dawned on Me.”
Cline’s at times frenetic work played nicely against Tweedy’s own impressive guitar work and the multi-layered work of rest of the group, including Sansone, keyboardist Mikael Jorgenson, drummer Glenn Kotche, keyboardist Mikael Jorgensen and bassist John Stirratt (the only other original founding member of the band besides Tweedy), particularly during the “hits” portion of the show after “Star Wars,” which sampled heavily on songs from arguably their most popular album, 2002’s “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.” “I’m the Man Who Loves You” and “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart,” with its crashing drums and the plaintive “Via Chicago” all turned into singalongs, while the Beatles-esque “Hummingbird” provided a vehicle for Tweedy’s lovely voice.
But the real heart of the show came during the acoustic encore, during which the band formed a cluster at the front of the stage and some changed instruments (Jorgenson to melodica, Sansone to acoustic guitar and xylophone, Stirratt showed off his own vocal chops on “It’s Just That Simple”). Spare, stripped-down acoustic versions of the normally amped-up “War on War” and “Misunderstood” were a nice treat, and the bounce of “A Shot In the Arm” got a boost from the acoustic guitars. The group ended the set with a jazzy cover of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” a beautiful tribute to the beloved singer and a perfect ending to a nearly flawless set from a group of guys who might be getting older but still have plenty more to say.
Random Name Generator
The Joke Explained
Taste the Ceiling
Where Do I Begin
King of You
I Am Trying to Break Your Heart
Art of Almost
Bull Black Nova
Box Full of Letters
Heavy Metal Drummer
I’m the Man Who Loves You
Dawned on Me
The Late Greats
It’s Just that Simple
War on War
A Shot in the Arm
Space Oddity (David Bowie cover)