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Concert Reviews:
A great show from Wilco is just a matter of course anymore
 

By GARY GRAFF
for Journal Register Newspapers

» See more SOUND CHECK

DETROIT -- Wilco is the most exciting and versatile -- and best -- rock band working on the road today.

Period.

The group has, of course, been a pretty sure bet proposition since Jeff Tweedy started it 17 years ago, from the ashes of Uncle Tupelo. But it's grown from those rootsy Americana origins into a formidable and ambitious sextet that, in one fell swoop, delivers everything from twangy alt.country to punchy new wave, noisy avant rock and electro-style dance grooves. Give Wilco a couple of hours on stage and it'll blow the roof off any given joint with precision playing and daring arrangements -- but also a sense of taste and a sophisticated melodic sensibility that's almost without peer, at least amidst its contemporaries.

Those virtues were intact and well-displayed during Wilco's 26-song, two-hour and 10-minute show Saturday night (Dec. 10) at a packed-to-the-gills Fillmore Detroit. Supported by a rich light show that included images projected onto scores of fabric sculptures hanging above the stage, the group certainly supported its latest release, playing nine songs from "The Whole Love," but it also dug into its catalog for deep fan favorites such as "I Must Be High," "Forget the Flowers" and "Hummingbird."

Though the concert was, ultimately, a rocker, Wilco eased into things with "One Sunday Morning (Song For Jane Smiley's Boyfriend)," the gentle and lengthy (12 minutes) closing track from "The Whole Love." It was the musical equivalent of stretching exercises for a long run, allowing Tweedy and company -- particularly lead guitarist Nels Cline -- to feel out the stage and the crowd and trade instrumental nuances back and forth. "Poor Places" and "I Am Trying to Break Your Art" offered dynamic builds into crash-and-burn endings, while "Art of Almost" forayed into trancey ambience.

The rest of the show drew from all seven of Wilco's albums, spotlighting the group's range from quieter fare such as "Sky Blue Sky," "Via Chicago" and "Passenger Side" to the jaunty, old tyme flavor of "Capitol City," the twang of "Forget the Flowers" and the shifting moods of "Black Moon." Cline's extended solo on "Impossible Germany" was the instrumental highpoint of the night, and Wilco kept its rock side at the forefront with romps through the likes of "I Might," "Bull Black Nova," "Pot Kettle Black," "A Shot in the Arm" and a charged first encore that included "Heavy Metal Drummer," "Candyfloss," "Standing O" and "I'm a Wheel."

The big bonus of the show, meanwhile, was opening act Nick Lowe. Playing his next-to-last night with Wilco -- though Tweedy told the Fillmore crowd the band was lobbying for him to join "WilcoLowe" -- the veteran British troubadour soldiered through a strong solo acoustic set that included songs from his latest album, "The Old Magic," as well as a cover of Elvis Costello's "Alison" (which Lowe produced), his Rockpile track "When I Write the Book" and signature pieces such as "All Men Are Liars," "I Knew the Bride (When She Used to Rock 'n' Roll") and "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding."

But Lowe's biggest hit, "Cruel to be Kind," was saved for the end of the night, when he joined Wilco on stage for a finale -- a gracious cap to the kind of galvanizing show the group presents as a matter of course.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff

 



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