As Coldplay took the field in Santa Clara, Calif., for the Super Bowl 50 halftime show, Wilco began its own Super Bowl Sunday show nearly 3,000 miles away at DAR Constitution Hall. Here are five observations from Wilco’s first show in D.C. proper since two nights at the 9:30 Club in 2008.
1. For ‘Star Wars,’ a band awakens.
Wilco took the stage promptly at 8:30 to the distorted sound of “EKG,” the first track on the band’s ninth album, “Star Wars.” Released as a surprise free download in July, “Star Wars” is Wilco’s most concise and cohesive record in years. Since the album came out, the band has been opening shows by performing the record in sequence. “Star Wars” already has a raw, live feel, so it worked well in concert (even if some fans were getting impatient waiting for Wilco to get to the hits). What’s most interesting about the performance is how Wilco treats “Star Wars” as a whole — a performance piece with songs that otherwise may have been overshadowed had they been mixed into the regular set. “Thank you for letting us play our whole new album,” singer Jeff Tweedy said after the 38-minute sequence.
2. ‘Take off your Band-Aid ’cause I don’t believe in touchdowns.’
Despite it being Super Bowl Sunday, Wilco still sold out Constitution Hall, a fact that was not lost on Tweedy. “Thank you for coming out on a national holiday,” Tweedy said after “Star Wars.” “Today we are all Jews in a Chinese restaurant on Christmas. I think you’re our people.” Later, during “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” fan favorite “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart,” Tweedy put extra emphasis on the line “Take off your Band-Aid ’cause I don’t believe in touchdowns,” which earned laughs and cheers from the crowd. Tweedy, who delivers some of the best banter in rock ’n’ roll, wasn’t particularly talkative on Sunday but he did get in another Super Bowl riff before “A.M.’s” “Box Full of Letters.” “We’re going to do Coldplay’s set from their halftime show now,” Tweedy joked, to a chorus of boos. “You guys are mean. People love that band. What’s wrong with you?”
3. What is Wilco’s ‘greatest hit?’
Before launching into “Heavy Metal Drummer,” one of Wilco’s most beloved songs, Tweedy told the crowd, “This is kind of our greatest hit set. This is our halftime show.” The songs after “Star Wars” were an apt summation of Wilco’s 20-plus years as a band, with singalongs (“Handshake Drugs”), fan favorites, deep cuts (a meditative version of “Being There’s” “Sunken Treasure”) and an alternate, fuzzy version of the song “Kamera.” The only song that felt out of place was a late-in-the-set “Dawned on Me” from 2011’s “The Whole Love.” It’s not a bad song, it just got lost next to so many classics.
4. Nels Cline, we have liftoff.
Veteran jazz guitarist Nels Cline joined Wilco in 2004, solidifying what is now the group’s longest tenured lineup, a six-piece that also includes bassist and original member John Stirratt, drummer Glenn Kotche, keyboardist Mikael Jorgensen and multi-instrumentalist Pat Sansone. Cline, who turned 60 last month, is one of the world’s best living guitarists, yet I’m impressed by his restraint in Wilco. During Sunday’s show, he had plenty of guitar freakouts — his solos in “Star Wars” songs “More…” and “You Satellite” were early highlights — but they were always tight and focused. And while Cline’s fretwork on “Art of Almost,” “Impossible Germany” and a hard-charging, 10-minute “Spiders (Kidsmoke)” was certainly out-there, he made every note count.
5. Bring on the acoustic tour.
For a second encore, Wilco set up at the front of the stage for an acoustic, hootenanny-style performance: Tweedy and Stirratt strummed acoustic guitars, Jorgensen played melodica, Kotche was on a mini-drum kit, Cline played dobro and Sansone plucked a banjo. What followed felt like a recital, with the crowd softly singing along to a rearranged version of “Misunderstood,” as well as favorites “War on War” and “A Shot in the Arm.” The highlight was the only Wilco song Stirratt sings: the beautiful, aching “It’s Just That Simple,” aided by a gorgeous Cline dobro solo. To top things off, Wilco paid tribute to David Bowie with a joyous, pitch-perfect cover of “Space Oddity,” debuted two nights earlier in Brooklyn. Wilco has done acoustic sets before — notably during its 2010 tour that stopped at Strathmore — but this felt like something Wilco could take on the road for an entire tour of intimate venues. I’d definitely skip the Super Bowl again to see that.
Feb. 7, 2016
DAR Constitution Hall
Random Name Generator
The Joke Explained
Taste the Ceiling
Where Do I Begin
King of You
I Am Trying to Break Your Heart
Art of Almost
Box Full of Letters
Heavy Metal Drummer
I’m the Man Who Loves You
Dawned on Me
The Late Greats
Encore 2 (acoustic):
War on War
It’s Just That Simple
A Shot in the Arm
Space Oddity (David Bowie cover)
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