ANN ARBOR -- About a third of the way through Wilco's show at U-M's Hill Auditorium on Friday night (Oct. 16), frontman Jeff Tweedy cautioned the crowd that the evening wouldn't end up quite like the group's July stop at the Royal Oak Music Theatre.
"That was, like, four hours," Tweedy said of the epic concert that was actually a bit shorter than that but still a milestone in the group's history. "That's not gonna happen tonight" due to an 11 p.m. curfew.
So the Ann Arbor crowd got a more modest performance -- but in Wilco's world modest is a relative term. The Chicago-based sextet still managed to deliver 27 songs over the course of two hours and 15 minutes, a typically eclectic exposition that surveyed the group's 15-year career from early favorites such as "Box of Letters" and "Casino Queen" all the way up to a sampling from this year's "Wilco (The Album)," all attacked with the heady, take-no-prisoners abandon that's also become one of Wilco's trademarks.
The usually glib and chatty Tweedy did his part to facilitate more music by limiting his ad libs, although he still managed to have fun at the expense of Canadian fans -- who he described as "a little lame" before leading a crowd singalong to "Jesus Etc." -- and with a front-row fan who fessed up to figuring out how to stuff the fan request poll on Wilco's Internet site. And before "Walken" Tweedy offered a warm shout-out to Detroit rocker Matthew Smith, who he dubbed a "local hero" and his group Outrageous Cherry "one of my favorite bands of all time."
The musical highlights were nearly as abundant as in Royal Oak, meanwhile, including rarities such as "You Are My Face," "Radio Cure" and "Ashes of American Flags," an exceptional rendition of "Impossible Germany" spotlighting guitarist Nels Cline, early encores of "You Never Know" and "California Stars" with opener Liam Finn and an audible call for "Kingpin" that was accented with the house lights that ring Hill's distinctive roof.
Wilco has reached a point where good -- make that great -- shows are the norm, and even compared to Royal Oak, Friday's concert showed that shorter could still be just as sweet.