Jeff Tweedy brought Wilco old and new to Austin on Tuesday, stressing the band’s history in an intimate afternoon performance at Waterloo Records before barreling head-on into the future at a sold-out Stubb’s show, the first of a two-night stand.
“So that’s our new album,” Tweedy said Tuesday night after the band walked onstage to the dissonant instrumental opener “EKG” and then ran through the next 10 tracks of the “Star Wars” LP in sequence. This was no surprise to the band’s devotees, as Wilco has been starting its shows this way since “Star Wars” was released in mid-July. But it set a challenging tone for the night, pushing better-known catalog material further back in a show that ran two and a half hours.
Their fans seemed fine with that, and they were rewarded with another 21 songs spanning the breadth of the band’s two-decade career. Highlights included “Box Full of Letters” from the debut “A.M.” (1995), “Red Eyed and Blue” from the double-album “Being There” (1996), “Impossible Germany” from “Sky Blue Sky” (2007) and four tracks from the game-changing “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” (2002), including “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart.”
An extended acoustic encore excavated a half-dozen more pre-2000 gems, including two songs from 1999’s “Summerteeth,” recorded at Willie Nelson’s studio just west of Austin. The encore was more reflective of the Waterloo set earlier in the day, though only three songs overlapped: “Misunderstood,” “A Shot in the Arm” and bassist John Stirratt’s beautiful “It’s Just That Simple.”
The band played only two songs from “Star Wars” at Waterloo, perhaps because the stripped-down instrumentation was better suited to different material. Tweedy and Stirratt played acoustic guitars, with Nels Cline on guitar and dobro, Pat Sansone on banjo and xylophone, Mikael Jorgensen on melodica and Glenn Kotche on a small drum kit.
But Tweedy also was intent on connecting to the past in this return to a record store where Wilco had played one of its first shows. He even remembered the exact date: “March 18, 1995,” he told the crowd. (I wasn’t there that afternoon, but I saw their SXSW showcase later that night at Liberty Lunch.)
Tweedy also recalled that a couple of years prior, he’d been in Austin to record his former band Uncle Tupelo’s final album at Cedar Creek Studios, where they were joined by Doug Sahm for a cover of a classic Sahm tune. As they launched into “Give Back the Key to My Heart,” smiles spread across the faces of the 275 fortunate attendees who’d gained admission by buying Wilco’s new album at Waterloo.
“I know we played a little bit longer than we were supposed to, so I apologize,” Tweedy said, to the chagrin of absolutely no one, as he introduced the final song with a story that stretched even further back. In 1991, Tweedy played his first in-store at Waterloo with Uncle Tupelo (thanks largely to one of the band’s early champions, former Waterloo employee Ross Shoemaker). The store had an extensive inventory of Daniel Johnson cassettes, and Tweedy said he bought a bunch of them that day.
One song from those cassettes connected so deeply that Tweedy ended up recording it with Wilco many years later. Indeed, there could be no more perfect closing number at Waterloo than Johnston’s “True Love Will Find You in the End.”
Waterloo set list:
Random Name Generator
The Joke Explained
War on War
It’s Just That Simple
Give Back the Key to My Heart
A Shot in the Arm
True Love Will Find You in the End