Until the surprise Thursday release of “Star Wars,” the band’s ninth studio album, Wilco hadn’t released an album in four years. So this summer tour they’ve embarked on essentially has been a chance for the band to reacquaint fans with its vast and diverse catalog.
Wednesday night, Wilco sold out Crossroads KC, drawing a crowd of about 2,000. It was the band’s first show in Kansas City since December 2011, when it filled the Uptown Theater. For nearly two hours, Jeff Tweedy and his bandmates pulled songs from the first eight Wilco albums, plus two from his Uncle Tupelo days, delivering a stellar set list filled with favorites and a few pleasant surprises.
They opened with “Via Chicago,” a gust of melancholy that explodes into a cathartic storm of noise and splash of percussion, then a mix of favorites, like “Kamera” and “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart,” and deep cuts, like “Company In My Back” and “Art of Almost.”
Tweedy, who is usually chatty, didn’t have a lot to say. He didn’t greet the crowd until three or four songs in, when he said everyone looked “moist,” thanks to the heat. He referred to Missouri as he introduced two songs.
First, “Heavy Metal Drummer,” which references Laclede'sLanding, an entertainment district in St. Louis; and then the Uncle Tupelo song “New Madrid,” which references a city in southeast Missouri and a region known for its earthquakes. He also talked about having just played in Colorado, which has “weaponized” pizza by infusing it with weed.
Otherwise, it was all music and all business, and the show took on a rollicking pace, one great song after another. At times it felt like watching a slugger in batting practice launching baseballs over the outfield walls, one after another. Tweedy and his five bandmates have been together for nearly 11 years now, and there is a sense of ease and looseness to their power, precision and finesse. Guitarist Nels Cline dazzled throughout. His ornate solo on “Impossible Germany” and fills and leads on “I Am The Man Who Loves You” were wonderful.
There were lots of sing-along moments. “Jesus, Etc.” was one; “New Madrid,” “A Shot in the Arm,” “California Stars” and “Forget the Flowers,” a favorite from the “Being There” album, were a few of the others.
The five-song encore made a great show even better. Tweedy and the band gathered in an unplugged/acoustic formation — which Tweedy facetiously blamed on the threat of lightning — and started with a lovely cover of Daniel Johnston’s “True Love Will Find You in the End.” As they were all night, the harmonies from bassist John Stirratt were spot-on.
They followed that with the bubbly “War on War” and then “Hesitating Beauty,” a jaunty country-folk love ballad from the first “Mermaid Avenue” album. Then came the surprise of the night: Tweedy and Stirratt sang “Give Back the Key to My Heart.” It’s a Doug Sahm song that Uncle Tupelo recorded for “Anodyne,” its final album, with vocals by Sahm and Jay Farrar and a rare, indirect reference to Tweedy’s former bandmate.
They closed with “Misunderstood,” managing to stir up closing cacophony despite playing acoustic instruments. It was an odd juxtaposition: Tweedy singing, “I’d like to thank you all for nothing at all” along with a joyous crowd that rained gratitude and affection upon him and his band all night.
Via Chicago; Handshake Drugs; Kamera; Company In My Back; Art of Almost; I Am Trying to Break Your Heart; One Wing; Panthers; Hummingbird; Secret of the Sea; Heavy Metal Drummer; I’m the Man Who Loves You; Sunken Treasure; Jesus, Etc.; Born Alone; Impossible Germany; New Madrid; Forget the Flowers; California Stars; Box Full of Letters; Dawned on Me; A Shot in the Arm. Encore: True Love Will Find You in the End; War on War; Hesitating Beauty; Give Back the Key to My Heart; Misunderstood.