As we sat on blankets at Red Butte last night my friends and I compared notes on how many times we’d seen Wilco, the night’s headliner. It was the fifth time for me, not including the Jeff Tweedy acoustic show I’d seen at Kingsbury Hall a few years ago. But at least one member of our group recalled seeing the band at the now-defunct—but never forgotten—Zephyr club. This is typical of Wilco shows. Their fans form a dedicated group, and I count myself among its members.
And so, when the band took the stage, with Tweedy in a wrinkled chambray shirt, baggy jeans and his now trademark wide-brimmed white hat, there was reverence from the crowd.
Wilco is our coming-of-age story. We might be significantly older than we were the first time we heard “Passenger Side” but, you bet your ass we still sing along, because we remember a time when the five dollars in gas money mentioned in the song was enough to actually get somewhere.
And what we, the devoted masses, got at Red Butte last night was a delightful mix of old and new tunes and, as always, beautiful and versatile musicianship.
It’s easy when you know all the words to all the songs—as everyone did last night—to forget that Wilco is no greater than the sum of its parts. And it’s parts are the God-like Nels Cline on the guitar, Glenn Kotche on drums, John Stirratt on bass, Pat Sansone on guitar and Mikael Jorgensen on guitar. And while only Tweedy and Stirratt remain from the band’s original incarnation, this may well be the best the band has ever been.
But about those songs. Alt-country trailblazing Wilco showed up with songs from A.M. and Being There and experimental prog-rock Wilco showed up with tunes from Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and A Ghost is Born. And new Wilco showed up, too, with the live debut of “Someone to Lose” from their soon-to-be-released Wilco Schmilco album, and a few from last year’s Star Wars.
And they’ve still got it—from the sonic sounds in “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart” to the wistful lilting tone of “Hummingbird,” these boys can still play. One thing that was lacking, to my dismay, was cranky Jeff Tweedy banter with the crowd. I’ve been at shows where his banter was akin to storytelling and I’ve been at shows where he’s (rightly) scolded audience members for being on their cell phones. But last night we got, “Hey Salt Lake City. We love it here.”
And, as was the case at last year’s Red Butte show, the real treat came with the band’s second encore—an acoustic set complete with a banjo and lots of old favorites, including “We’ve Been Had,” an Uncle Tupelo cover—just for those of us who have been with the band since before it existed, or you know, everyone in the crowd. Because that was all of us last night.