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    Wilco wears twenty years well.

    The band, one of the most well-respected in the industry, stopped in Louisville Friday night; the latest show on their 20th Anniversary tour.  The performance that transpired is beyond words.  Angelic.  Exhilarating.  Inspiring.  This being the fourth time I’ve seen Wilco over the years, Friday night at Iroquois Ampitheater they felt like a different band...in a good way.

    Smiling, energetic, tight.  I’m pretty sure we even saw their typically subdued frontman, Jeff Tweedy, actually dancing here and there.  The band barreled through a wormhole of alt-country indie-rock that swung from the controlled chaos of noise, to the folksy stomping of bluegrass infused elegies to heartbreak.  The lengthy set topped 30 songs and lasted two and a half hours, bringing the audience down memory lane, with two decades of music that continues to prove to be challenging and timeless.

    The band’s reinvigorated live show, perfectly displays how Wilco has made it this long.  Tweedy is a soulful intellectual in his lyrics, and his sliding tenor conveys a tapestry of emotions that is deeply impactful from the stage.  And guitarist Nels Cline is the band’s M.V.P. – a provocative complex player, who seems to feel more at home in the avant-garde abstraction of noise rock, than he does playing more traditional solos.  Cline's playing inspired the very nice, kinda drunk older gentleman beside me to lean in and whisper, "Does anyone do noise better than Wilco?  Hell no!"

    The lengthy setlist featured some of the band’s most beloved work, “I am Trying to Break Your Heart,” “Handshake Drugs,” “Hummingbird,” “Heavy Metal Drummer,” “Jesus, etc,” “Via Chicago,” “Impossible Germany,” “Airline to Heaven,” “Box Full of Letters,” and “I’m a Wheel;” to only a few songs the band plucked out.

    The guys returned after their first encore with a second encore, this time around it was stripped down to an old fashioned, unplugged folk show.  Acoustic instruments truly unplugged, each individually miked for an authentic barnyard romp n’ stomp – a lap slide guitar, a banjo, two guitars, and a brushed drum kit – the band reinterpreted half-a-dozen more gems that they dug out of their illustrious discography, including “Shot in the Arm,” “California Stars,” and “Misunderstood.”

    Opening act Steve Gunn was fine enough, but understandably hard to remember in the wake of Wilco’s monster set.  He was an earnest singer/songwriter from Brooklyn whose music radiate a healthy dose of Americana roots as well as a touch of psychedelic airiness.

    Ultimately, the weather was beautiful - the crowd was feeding off of the band's energy, so there was simply a spark in the ampitheater air that made it clear we were all into something special...band and audience alike.

    Photos by Elliot Carter

     

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    About Brent Owen

    Born and raised in Louisville, I have lived here most of my life (except during a short furlough, when I, lovelorn and naive, followed a girl to Baton Rouge). My roots are here, my family, my friends, and my life are all here. I work primarily as a free-lance writer for a few local and regional publications. I have also written two books (one a memoir, the other a novel) that barring some divine intervention, will probably never see the light of day. I find myself deeply ingrained in the local bar scene, or perhaps better said, I often indulge in the local drinking culture. I love music, movies, comedy, and really just about any other live performance art.

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