It’s been forever since Wilco was considered anything close to hip, or now, but last night — when four out of five of our casually inebriated post-softball buds turned down a plus-one to the show at Hammerstein Ballroom in favor of more drinking — we had to consider whether the Chicago alt-country-cum-art-rockish jam band crossed over into a nefarious nether region. Had Wilco become actively uncool?
In the wake of the seventies AM-radio pop sound of the band’s latest, Sky Blue Sky, the mini-controversy over the licensing of songs for a series of Volkswagen commercials, and last night’s show, where a fun balcony diversion was playing Spot the Bald Spot, the suspicion closed in like a chokehold. Front man Jeff Tweedy even made a nod to it, by way of introduction: “I don’t think we’ve played here in two or three years you guys have really grown up since then.”
“We’re trying to graduate to a rock show,” Tweedy later joked. “We have a backdrop.” And with that the spotlight turned onto an amorphous bunny-owl hybrid rag doll, apparently a macramé creation, hanging overheard. “Seriously, if you have macramé, send it to Wilco, Chicago.” Whip-tight noise freak-outs didn’t hurt either, like the demolishing “At Least That’s What You Said.” “We missed you, New York, we really did!” Tweedy screamed over the crashing cymbals and no-longer-slumbering crowd.
By double encore, the band was fully in stride. “This is our hit song,” an excitable Tweedy yelped before the unmistakable bashing drum intro to the beatific “Heavy Metal Drummer.” And when the band wrapped up the show by ripping through the gibberish pop perfection of “I’m a Wheel,” we realized, with a relieved exhale, that no act with this kind of back catalog could ever be destined for total irrelevance. —Amos Barshad
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