Editor’s note: This review covers Wilco’s performance on December 6, but photos are from the band’s show on December 5.
Two decades is a long time to be in a band—it’s the point when most bands have already broken up years ago or hit the state fair circuit as a glorified tribute act. Wilco has certainly had its fair share of comings and goings during its 20-year career, but Jeff Tweedy and bassist John Stirratt have been around since the beginning, while every other member of the current configuration of the group has put in at least 10 years. More importantly, the band’s music has continued to evolve, moving further beyond its alt-country roots with each successive record.
At the second show of its six night “Winterlude 2014” series at the Riviera Theatre, Wilco demonstrated just how far it has come with a 30-song set that covered the breadth of its catalog. With four more nights ahead of them, the group made an effort to reach for deep cuts, including the live debut of several rarities featured on the band’s recent Alpha Mike Foxtrot box set. Those hoping to hear some new material came away empty handed, but for longtime fans it was a treat to hear the subdued synths of A Ghost is Born cast-off “Panthers” and the percussive grooves of the Television-esque “Dark Neon” in a live setting.
After making his way through a “labor-intensive” selection of older songs, Tweedy addressed the crowd (and the audience listening to the live broadcast on WXRT) and said hello to his wife, Susan. Though she usually attends all of Wilco’s hometown shows, Susan has been battling lymphoma throughout the past year and was unable to be in attendance. “This is the first time we’ve played in Chicago without my wife here,” Tweedy said before launching into a selection of songs featuring Woody Guthrie lyrics, including “At My Window Sad and Lonely” and “Secret of the Sea”.
Tweedy has spent the past few months on the road behind his solo record Sukierae, but the chemistry between him and his bandmates has not diminished during their time apart. For the band’s second encore, the group grabbed acoustic instruments and came to the front of the stage where they turned in delicate renditions of Bill Fay’s “Be Not So Fearful” and Daniel Johnston’s “True Love Will Find You in the End”.
Of course, the night ended with a song for Tweedy’s wife—a jangling, banjo-filled version of “I’m the Man Who Loves You.” Capping off an evening that was filled with sentimental moments and songs from the archives, Wilco's heartfelt finale proved that the band's hometown shows are always a special occasion.