How can Wilco still be this good?
For almost two-and-a-half hours, the Chicago sextet dazzled the Wednesday night crowd at the Orpheum Theater, showcasing everything that’s made them one of the most acclaimed bands of the last quarter-century.
It started slow. Around 8:30 p.m., the band strolled on stage to play back-to-back cuts from their latest album, Ode to Joy. “Bright Leaves” and “Before Us” were quiet and contemplative, built around the two-man game of lead singer Jeff Tweedy’s muted acoustic strums and Glenn Kotche’s equally-subdued drumming. Both tracks gently unspooled, with each member drifting in and out of the melody to gently noodle.
The show jumped up with “Handshake Drugs.” Like every song from the band’s 1999 classic Summerteeth, “Handshake Drugs” cloaks lyrics about self-doubt and addiction in a pop-rock perfection. Watching the audience sing-along was darkly funny because, like Van Halen’s “Jump” or Kendrick Lamar’s “Swimming Pools (Drank),” a lot of people seem to miss the message.
“Via Chicago,” another Summerteeth standout, was also spectacular. The band turned the song’s off-tempo dirge of a chorus into a full-blown noise-rock freakout that featured Kotche and guitarist Nels Cline creating some truly oppressive sounds with their instruments.
It wouldn’t be the only time that Cline captured the audience’s attention, he was mesmerizing throughout the evening. During “Hummingbird,” he crafted chords so creamy, they practically oozed out of the speakers and there were several points where he added bursts of feedback that acted as an exciting complement to Tweedy’s more workmanlike guitar playing. The highlight of the evening was easily his extended solo on Sky Blue Sky favorite “Impossible Germany.”
Throughout it all, the usually-reserved Tweedy offered up plenty of playful banter. He inquired as to whether a particularly loud group of female fans in the front row were part of a bachelorette party and mentioned that the band seems to get the weirdest crowds on “Wilco Wednesdays” which he described as being “like taco Tuesdays… only with Wilco.”
After another crowd-pleasing sing-along, this time to “Jesus, Etc.,” the band launched into the show’s rock-heavy second half.
Recent single “Everyone Hides” fit in seamlessly with mid-period favorites like “Theologians” and “I’m the Man Who Loves You.” Even the second-tier singles that made up their encore were received rapturously.
“It’s been a while, Omaha,” Tweedy said near the start of the set. Even though it had been years since the band had last made its way to the Metro, Wilco was more than worth the wait.