For the second time in 13 months, Wilco rolled into town and unleashed two hours of music upon a big crowd in downtown Kansas City, steamrolling through a set list of more than two dozen songs that included a new track and spanned a catalog that now comprises 10 albums and exceeds two decades.
It’s tempting to call it a “typical” performance, a showcase of diverse and thoughtful songwriting and stellar musicianship. Frontman Jeff Tweedy kept his droll, dry-witted banter to a minimum, instead letting the music do most of the talking. He spent one aside chastising a locust that was tormenting the band — “I don’t like them. They’re stupid and they scare my wife.” — and during “Spiders (Kidsmoke),” he reprimanded the crowd for failing sadly and badly at the clap-along he tried to choreograph.
Otherwise, he led his five bandmates workman-like through a set that opened with four tracks from “Star Wars,” the album the band released for free in July 2015, and then bunny-hopped around the rest of a catalog that goes back to “A.M.,” its debut album, released in March 1995.
The crowd of more than 1,800 was typical: The fans closer to the stage were more engaged than those in the back, depending on what song was being performed. “Star Wars” was the show’s feature album; they played six of its 11 tracks. They also played “If Ever I Was a Child,” a track from “Schmilco,” an album to be released in September.
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Like the rest of the set list, those songs showcased the skills and chops of one of the best rock bands out there. Lead guitarist Nels Cline adorned nearly every song with the kinds of astute and adventurous frills and filigrees that separate him from his peers. His stellar bandmates, especially drummer Glenn Kotche, added to the sheen, embroidering favorites like “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart” and “Via Chicago” with touches and flairs that transform Tweedy’s compositions from standard pop and rock songs into aural sculptures and dynamic soundscapes.
Other highlights: “We’ve Been Had,” the only Uncle Tupelo song in the set list; “Just That Simple,” an “A.M.” track that featured bassist John Stirratt, the only other founding Wilco member, on lead vocals; and the standard Wilco fare, including “Jesus, Etc.,” “Box Full of Letters,” “Heavy Metal Drummer,” “I Got You (At the End of the Century)” and “I’m the Man Who Loves You.”
The encore was one, long highlight, a stripped-down, acoustic set that included favorites like “Misunderstood,” “I’m Always in Love” and “California Stars” — the lone “Mermaid Avenue” track. They closed with “A Shot in the Arm,” a rollicking track from the “Summerteeth” album that, as well as any other song, describes the relationship between a typical Wilco show and its fans: a stimulant that revives the spirit.
Timothy Finn: 816-234-4781, @phinnagain
EKG; More; Random Name Generator; The Joke Explained; I Am Trying to Break Your Heart; Art of Almost; Pickled Ginger; Hummingbird; Handshake Drugs; Cold Slope; Via Chicago; Spiders (Kidsmoke); Jesus, Etc.; If I Ever Was a Child; Box Full of Letters; Heavy Metal Drummer; I’m the Man Who Loves You; Red-Eyed and Blue; I Got You (At the End of the Century); Impossible Germany; The Late Greats. Encore: Misunderstood; It’s Just That Simple; We’ve Been Had; I’m Always in Love; California Stars; A Shot in the Arm.