“We’re just going have to live with the fact that we’re a people divided.”
Wilco leader Jeff Tweedy’s pronouncement about an hour into the band’s concert on Sunday at Bass Concert Hall wasn’t meant to be political. Kind of. Oh, he certainly knew how those words would resonate when he spoke them. But he was actually referring, slyly and amusingly, to the split decision between audience members on whether to sit or stand for the show.
Early on, the sitters appeared to be winning out. Tweedy assured the crowd that he didn’t mind either way, and indeed, he and his five bandmates were well into delivering a memorable two-and-a-half-hour show regardless of whether the mood in the room was more chill-out Sunday evening than party-hard Saturday night.
Perhaps it was his congenial openness that encouraged more in the crowd to rise to their feet. Tweedy joked that if the seated folks were more in the mood for quieter material, the band could focus on its “slow, sad songs,” but he cautioned: “You’ll be late for work tomorrow. You might lose your job if we play them all!”
The acoustic, sad-but-funny “Passenger Side” from the band’s 1995 debut “A.M.” followed, and instead of more standing fans taking a seat, more of the seated ones stood up. That was the turning point, and by the time they revisited another “A.M.” folk-rock classic, “Box Full of Letters,” a few songs later, nearly everyone was on their feet for the duration.
Tweedy finally tipped his hand. “When we came out here, you looked like an oil painting. It was a little scary,” he confessed. “The mood has completely turned around. I’m so happy about your transformation!”
The band’s performance certainly had something to do with that. The middle of the set featured some of their best material, including three fan favorites with geographic titles: “Via Chicago,” Impossible Germany” and “California Stars.” That helped galvanize the crowd after a comparatively challenging start that included a few songs from their recent “Schmilco” and “Star Wars” albums as well as the envelope-pushing noise-fest “Art of Almost.”
The latter showcased the considerable instrumental talents of Tweedy’s bandmates, who tellingly were arranged more in a row onstage than the more typical cluster, with a bucolic tree-grove set towering behind them. Drummer Glenn Kotche is pushed forward in the stage plot, in part because his balance between rhythmic precision and frenetic energy is vital to the band’s innovative sound. Tone-master guitarist Nels Cline and multi-instrumentalist Pat Sansone framed the group at stage right and left, respectively, with keyboardist Mikael Jorgensen and bassist/backing vocalist John Stirratt — the only member besides Tweedy who’s been in Wilco from the start — filling key roles in the middle.
“I think we’ve made it through most of the darkness now,” Tweedy offered up as the band hit the home stretch of its main set and headed toward what turned out to be an eight-song encore. “Just wanted to inform you that there’s light at the end of the tunnel.”
He paused, realizing his words once again might be construed as being about something more than the band’s musical pacing. “I don’t mean in the world, no. As far as the world at large, I think that’s up to you. That’s up to all of us.”
Austin singer-songwriter Bob Schneider opened with a 40-minute solo acoustic set that featured more than a dozen songs from his many albums, ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous. Popular enough locally to occasionally fill large rooms on his own with various backing bands, he seemed an odd choice as an opener for Wilco, but those who arrived early mostly accommodated and appreciated his sly-yet-heartfelt songs and offbeat between-song banter.
Wilco set list:
1. You Are My Face
2. If I Ever Was a Child
3. Cry All Day
4. I Am Trying to Break Your Heart
5. Art of Almost
6. Pickled Ginger
7. Side With the Seeds
8. Pot Kettle Black
9. Passenger Side
10. Someone to Lose
11. Via Chicago
12. Bull Black Nova
14. Impossible Germany
15. California Stars
16. Forget the Flowers
17. Box Full of Letters
18. Heavy Metal Drummer
19. I’m the Man Who Loves You
21. The Late Greats
22. Random Name Generator
23. Jesus Etc.
24. Hate It Here
27. Outtasite (Outta Mind)
29. Spiders (Kidsmoke)