Old Foellinger hosts Wilco

It never fails to be refreshing when a favored band tramples the formal stage of one of your university’s historic lecture halls, takes hostage of all those monotone, powerpoint memories, and replaces them with thumping beats, raucous guitar riffs and high decibel vocals. Where podium and professor once stood, thousands of dollars worth of thunderous audio equipment stacks eight feet high. The first couple of rows by the stage are now far from lonely as rowdy inebriated die-hard fans stand elbow to elbow.

Last Tuesday our beloved Foellinger Auditorium harbored Chicago’s finest alt-country act, Wilco, bursting its 1,750 seat capacity with a few short of a sold-out crowd. The musty theater, amped with a snowy Mardi Gras aura, hushed as Tweedy and Co. piano-hopped into the soft swell of “Hell is Chrome” and initiated what was to be a quite memorable show for the first leg of their spring tour, sadly without the poetic antics of Thax Douglas. And being the Grammy-nominated (and now winners) group of souls that they are, they seemed in high-spirits for the occasion. Notably taken with a grain of salt, Tweedy joked at one point, “We don’t have a chance against the O.C., Modest Mouse … or … Franz Ferdinand.” Even as the band jested in speech and demeanor, they managed to produce a tight and stirring syncopated set of 25 tracks; roughly a two-hour show, the majority of the material drawn from their more experimental albums Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002) and A Ghost Is Born (2004), with a fair share of Summer Teeth (1998) as well.

In accordance with previous Wilco tours, the stage was adorned with constant movie screen-sized animations to coincide with their semi-psychedelic side, ranging from vaginal wing formations trailing “I’m Always in Love’s” wailing synthesizer melodies, to an endless sunflower transgression of hypnotic insects dizzying the acoustic plucks of “Muzzle of Bees,” to soothing, surreal monochrome sand storm drifts of Chicago skyscrapers during “Jesus, Etc.’s” violin chorus pulls. All of which was left quivering compared to the red/blue ominous-type silhouettes of the band members cast 20 feet high over the pillars, walls and front section of old Foellinger’s collegiate crowd. Whether or not you believe this technology to be truly evocatively integral to their sound, it does indeed make for a pretty damn stimulated rock ‘n’ roll performance.

But let’s not forget the essence of the music that this band has forged; Tuesday’s session proved consistent. Their alt-country stabilized beginnings turned Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (see “Poor Places”) on our asses and ran rampantly, as the group’s signature cacophony crescendos piercingly shook mesmerized undergraduate minds only to squeeze them into pure, lucid nuggets of folksy epiphanies. “At Least That’s What You Said” and its rhythmic jabbing electric guitar tweaks were the climax of the show.

For the most part, all members of the rock outfit played the recorded stylings of the band’s studio albums, skipping only a couple piano intros (i.e. “Theologians”). But their stage presence and performance made up for this lack in variation. John Stiratt (bass) and Jim O’Rourke (guitar) hammered fierce chord progressions, jolting their bodies in an almost seizure-like way. Glenn Kotche (drums) melded thumping syncopated tangents to Mikael Jogenson’s (piano) two-handed piano and synthesizer flurries, while Tweedy soothed everything together with those ever-so-familiar magnetic lyrics. It was hard to catch the flaws, the only noticeable one being a little rasp in Tweedy’s voice from time to time.

The band closed with an encore of a series of political stabs, beginning with “Ashes of American Flags” and three sarcastic, but amusing covers: “Political Science” (Tweedy claiming it to be written by Dick Cheney), Blue Oyster Cult’s “Don’t Fear the Reaper,” and “Something’s in the Air” by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, all taken as left winged-ly as you wish.

Political notions aside, Wilco’s performance at U of I saw warm reactions and satiated students, a few generous co-eds even throwing beads as they left the floor of Foellinger. This being the opening act of the tour, the band proved enthusiastically equipped to take on the rest of the nation throughout the remainder of February. The last chance any Midwesterner has at catching a partial taste is a solo performance by Tweedy in Chicago benefiting the Children’s Memorial Foundation Kawasaki Research Fund, after which the innovative semi-pop stars shoot to the UK.

1. Hell is Chrome
2. Handshake Drugs
3. A Shot in the Arm
4. Hummingbird
5. I Am Trying to Break Your Heart
6. I’m Always in Love
7. At Least That’s What You Said
8. Muzzle of Bees
9. Jesus, Etc.
10. Company in My Back
11. Via Chicago
12. War on War
13. Candyfloss
14. I’m the Man Who Loves You
15. Poor Places
16. Spiders (Kidsmoke)
17. She’s a Jar
18. Theologians (New Intro)
19. Kingpin
20. The Late Greats
21. I’m a Wheel

22. Ashes of American Flags
23. Political Science
24. Don’t Fear the Reaper
25. Something in the Air

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