Wilco Come Full Circle During 20th Anniversary Tour Kickoff
It may seem slightly odd that a Chicago-based band would choose to kick off their 20th anniversary tour in Dallas, Texas. But if you really dig deep into Wilco’s past, you'll find plenty of roots firmly planted in the Lone Star State. Frontman Jeff Tweedy’s previous band, Uncle Tupelo, tapped Austin’s Cedar Creek Recording to lay down their third and final album, 1993’s Anodyne, which marked the beginning of the end for that group. Wilco also returned to the area several years later to record cuts for the Mermaid Avenue sessions and 1999's Summerteeth at Willie Nelson’s studio in Spicewood.
Truly, digging deep to come full circle was the backbone ideal propping up the first two shows of the anniversary tour in Dallas and Houston. Across career-spanning sets and two encores apiece (each night’s second return featured three acoustic cuts), the band thrilled fans by unearthing obscurities, B-sides and rarities, including a few that had previously been played live fewer than 50 times.
That was largely due to the tour’s concept: all the songs were requested by ticket-buyers, meaning the shows catered largely to the hardcore fans. It was kind of crazy seeing as many people sing along as heartily to “Panthers” and “Camera” (played only twice each before the Dallas show) as they did during “She’s a Jar” and “Born Alone.” Though mainstays like “Heavy Metal Drummer,” “Jesus, Etc.” and “Impossible Germany” were repeated across both performances, the intent to make the gigs independently special held up – only about a third of the 31 selections from the Dallas show cropped up among the 29 in Houston.
While the H-town gig was actually more momentous in terms of timing (13 years to the day since the release of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and 10 years to the day since the band played the same venue) it felt slightly more focused on the hits. That said, the band did open the first encore with a rare run through the 2009 self-titled Japanese release B-side, “Dark Neon,” which provided an uncommon glimpse of Tweedy in angsty-screaming mode. And the final encore was no less exceptional with its stripped-down renditions of the lesser played “The Thanks I Get,” Billy Bragg collabo “Hoodoo Voodoo” (which featured a formidable licks-battle between Nels Cline’s lap slide resonator and Pat Sansone’s banjo) and the sobering closer, “A Shot in the Arm."
Comparing those choices to the Dallas picks, one has to wonder if the musicians eschewed requests and saved the encores for themselves. “Walken” kicked off the first and was dedicated somewhat comically to the Katy Trail – a local walking/jogging path – while the show-ending, acoustic hat trick began with the Doug Sahm classic, “Give Back the Key to My Heart,” re-recorded by Uncle Tupelo for Anodyne with Sahm on lead vocals. Tweedy poignantly introduced it by saying, “You can’t really come to Texas without playing this song.”
On top of the Dallas show’s inclusion of the only Wilco song not written and sung by Tweedy, bassist John Stirratt’s “It’s Just That Simple,” and a quick dip back into Tweedy’s Loose Fur days with “Laminated Cat,” that Sahm cut’s appearance revealed a band completely comfortable in their skin two decades on. Clearly, they’ve embraced their multi-layered, often tumultuous past to inform a still burgeoning and – even at its most avant-garde (see “Art of Almost”) – unerringly prolific songbook.
So during the Dallas gig’s final tune, “Misunderstood,” when Tweedy stared straight ahead and sang, “I’d like to thank you all for nothin’ at all” over the instruments’ calming, acoustic hum, who was he talking to? Seems the best interpretation of that scathing line in the context of the present day is as a jab toward any of those naysayers from back at the beginning – those who (unlike these adoring audience members that clearly stayed loyal for years upon years) foolishly turned a blind eye to the birth of one of America’s most timeless musical acts. Among those others hitting their 20-year mark, Wilco is as classic as they come.