Wilco won’t let you down. Over the course of twenty-five years and eleven albums, they’ve established a fervent fanbase. Their live performances have a solid reputation; they’re known to play at least two-hour sets at every show, and they always include some fan favorites along with the songs from whatever album they’re promoting. In fact, they even have a spot on their website to enter song requests for different shows.
When I saw them on Nov. 19, frontman Jeff Tweedy announced that it had been twenty-five years and two days, to be exact, since their first show. When he said this, I was applauding just like everyone else, but I found myself regretting that it was only my first time seeing them. I went to the show on my own, and the two hours I spent alone in the front of the crowd were some of the most stunning and exciting in recent memory. I hope I’ll see them again and again.
Even though I’d read a lot about Wilco’s live shows previously, their performance at the Mission Ballroom blew all of my expectations away. After a decade of rotating through various members, their current lineup has been consistent since 2007’s Sky Blue Sky. Each member was highlighted various times during the show, and most of them had incredible solos throughout the set.
In addition to the most iconic member of the band, Jeff Tweedy, I was especially excited to see guitarist Nels Cline and drummer Glen Kotche. Cline was named “a true guitar polymath” by Rolling Stone magazine on their list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists, and it watching his iconic solo from “Impossible Germany” was a highlight of the show. Kotche was also named to Rolling Stone’s list of the 100 Greatest Drummers, as they named him “a Jim Keltner-John Cage hybrid” for his talent and originality. Around the half-way point of the show, Kotche was dripping in sweat as his drumming drove one song after the next. Although Tweedy, Cline, and Kotche usually get most of the attention, each member put so much energy into the performance; it seemed like they were having just as good of a time as the audience.
Most of the songs they played in Denver came either from their latest album, Ode to Joy, or 2004’s A Ghost is Born. Beyond those two albums, they threw in plenty of crowd favorites, such as “War on War,” “Hummingbird,” “Random Name Generator,” “Forget the Flowers,” and of course, “California Stars.”
Wilco’s sound and lyrics speak to various emotions around living, loving and so much more. As evidenced by the increasing size of venues they play on each subsequent tour, they manage to keep attracting more fans because of their consistently impressive shows and versatile music. They care so deeply about their craft, and it shows. For me, Wilco will always reign supreme.