By Dan Almoney for PA Music Scene
**Dan Almoney is a video producer with Media Boomtown, LLC. He is an avid music lover and …blah blah blah”
(Poster courtesy of Wilco)
Jeff Tweedy, the driving force behind one of America’s greatest bands, Wilco, seemed to sum up the band’s Scranton appearance best: “Shut up & sing along.”
Taking the stage just before 8:30pm to the “Price is Right” theme, Tweedy (along with founding member/bassist John Stirratt, drummer Glenn Kotche, guitarist Nels Cline, keyboardist Mikael Jorgensen, and multi-instrumentalist Pat Sansone) led the sold out crowd through a marathon 3 hour, 35 song set that covered the band’s entire history.
The band’s playful mood was evident from the beginning, kicking things off with “Wilco (The Song)” from their latest Grammy-nominated album, Wilco (The Album);complete with band introductions, courtesy of pre-recorded computerized voice generators. From there the band launched immediately into the Yankee Hotel Foxtrot classic, “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart.”
Other early highlights included “Bull Black Nova” and the Summerteeth track “A Shot In The Arm.” that had the stage drowned in red, and the crowd singing along as Tweedy longed for “something in my veins, bloodier than blood.”
Heading toward the end of part one of this “Evening With Wilco” as it was billed, the band did “Misunderstood” from their second record Being There, “Impossible Germany” with more guitar fireworks from Cline who was certainly a star on the night, the Mermaid Avenue great (and sing-a-long) “California Stars, followed by “Poor Places” from Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.
Awash in the sound and distortion closing out “Poor Places”, the road crew jumped into high speed, turning the stage from rock show to living room (complete with about half a dozen lamps for stage lighting). With that, Wilco welcomed you to the acoustic/unplugged/storytellers portion of the night.
Up first was the Ghost Is Born 10 minute epic, “Spiders (Kidsmoke).” The song, which was trimmed in length and free of all the distortion and noise from the recorded version, was a great surprise and the first of 9 others done in this setting; everything from requests (“She’s A Jar”, “Someday Soon”) to a love song (“You & I”), and of course a bunch of tunes to sing along with (“Forget the Flowers” and — the only song played from the band’s first album AM — “Passenger Side).
This more intimate setting allowed for several more light moments in between songs. Tweedy leaned on the crowd, telling people to be quiet. He also gave away restaurant gift cards (Bob Barker?) to the on-line request winners. One absent-minded person in the audience yelled out a request for “Spiders”, and Tweedy had to remind him that they played the song just moments earlier. “Airline To Heaven” rounded out the “living room” act of the set. Tweedy played acoustically, backed by the band on various percussion instruments. After this, the roadies once again grabbed instruments and lamps, and returned the stage to its pre-living room condition.
Into the home stretch, or act three, the familiar strains of “Via Chicago” saw the band return to full noise rock glory. Then came the massive crowd vocals for “Jesus, Etc.”, where Tweedy turned two-thirds of the song over to the faithful. The hits just kept on coming: “Handshake Drugs”, “You Never Know”, “Heavy Metal Drummer”, “Hate It Here”, and “Walken”. It got to the point where you thought they were going to play all night, and nobody seemed to mind.
With momentum building, drummer Kotche stood on his drum throne and struck a rock pose for the ages. Rightly so. Seeing this man work behind the kit with different textures and styles is one of the many things that make Wilco so great. After basking in the worshipful applause, he took his place again behind the kit, and the band broke into “I’m The Man Who Loves You”.
At this point, we seemed to reach the natural conclusion with the Ghost Is Born track “Hummingbird”. Its chorus seemed to be a sincere plea from Tweedy: “Remember to remember me.” It also provided one more opportunity for crowd participation. But wait, there’s more!
With a dedication to the recently passed Alex Chilton, Wilco closed the main portion of the set with the Big Star classics “Thank You Friends” and “In The Street”. Tweedy shared vocals with Stirratt and Sansone. A final round of thanks, and the band was off; after what I believe is the longest set of music I’ve ever seen without some sort of break in the action.
Pushing 11:30 on a Wednesday night, you thought that might be it. Not on this night. While it was short, the band came out for an encore of two “Ghost” tracks. “The Late Greats” and the rocker “I’m A Wheel” closed out a raucous night and sent the sold out crowd home.
After returning to the stage for the encore, Tweedy joked again that the band “Always wants to leave them wanting less.” One this night, in this town, it’s hard to imagine anybody wanting more. Standing in that room you get the impression that Wilco really does love you, baby; and would’ve kept playing all night. If only you’d shut up and sing along.