Wilco at their finest

Saturday marked the second night in a five night series of Wilco shows in their hometown of Chicago, and may arguably be regarded as the most rock-driven set of the Riviera Theater residency. This was Wilco in their purest form, with an arsenal of songs dating back to their early alt/country days, some of which likely haven’t been performed in over a decade.

The set opened with frontman Jeff Tweedy, dressed in full country denim, walking onto the stage to perform the peaceful “Someone Else’s Song.” A slew of songs from the album A Ghost is Born followed, highlighted by lead guitarist Nels Cline’s spastic soloing on “Handshake Drugs.” A stunning performance of “Via Chicago” came next. Violent, stumbling drums from Glenn Kotche accompanied by quavering synth and a blinding lights display seemed push the song to the point of utter incoherence, until the chaos suddenly ceased, and Tweedy’s soft whisper of “searchin for a home,” brought things back into perspective.

The band began digging deep into the vault with a performance of A.M.’s “It’s Just That Simple,” with bassist John Stirratt on lead vocals. After playing the heartbreaking “Dash 7,” Tweedy commented, “that doesn’t happen very often. Thanks for being quiet for that.” Clearly the song had not been heard live in some time.

Before performing the violin-driven “Jesus Etc.,” Tweedy called upon an unexpected guest, who turned out to be none other than Chicago’s own Andrew Bird. Bird remained on stage for many more songs, including “Red Eyed and Blue,” in which the two songwriters engaged in a sort of “whistle-off.” At the end of the song Tweedy gracefully bowed to Bird.

After a brief intermission the second set began, which was from start to finish dedicated to only the band’s most rock and roll tunes. “I Got You,” “Monday (horn section included),” “Kingpin,” and “Dreamer in my Dreams” were especially captivating.

Waving cordially, Tweedy and company left the stage with the crowd roaring. As the curtains went up and the stage crew began to disassemble the drums, it seemed the show was finally over, but the crowd wouldn’t move an inch toward the exits. The band returned, looking truly flattered, to play two more songs. For anyone who still loves rock and roll, it was an unforgettable night.

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