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Wilco in concert: long on songs, quality

Orpheum Theatre, Boston, April 6, 2010

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

Other recent concert reviews
If performing a concert clocking in at just about three hours with no opening act, you'd better be able to deliver the goods aplenty because these days, that's one long concert. In the case of one of the best American bands out there, Wilco, the length proved to be no problem.

The group ploughed through an incredible 39 songs! - that's about 4 albums worth of material with no break, not all that much schmoozing and not that much fancy staging either.

That meant that the Jeff Tweedy-led band from Chicago had to rely on, believe it or not, their music. That has never been a difficulty for Wilco, a cornerstone of the alt.-country movement in a different musical lifetime. Nowadays, country remains part of the mix along with rock, pop songs and even a foray into soul.

With Wilco, it's not any particular song that tended to overshadow the evening before a sold-out crowd. Instead, as they have other times, it was the cumulative effect. What continued to separate Wilco from a bunch of other bands out there was the quality of the songs and the band.

Wilco did not stay focused on any particular musical style. And while that meant they could be accused of being musical chameleons, shifting gears time and time again meant that they also kept the sound fresh without falling into a rut. The key element was that Wilco knew had to build a song with a few musical twists and turns along the way. Lead guitarist Nels Cline was stellar on lead guitar - like the rest of the band, not overpowering, but the sum was greater than the individual parts. Drummer Glenn Kotche set a good beat throughout. Pat Sansone on keyboards and guitars and Mikael Jorgensen on keyboards added to the sound as well.

Tweedy took lead on every song except one where bassist John Stirratt took over and did a fine job. Tweedy could mix it up vocally as well, comfortable with whatever the musical style (the poppy California Stars from "Mermaid Avenue" and Passenger Side from 1994's debut "A.M.") were among the highlights). Tweedy's vocals were mixed a bit low a few times, but he adds depth to the songs.

Tweedy engaged the crowd, for example, joking about song requests (in fact, he gave out two gift certificates to an area restaurant to fans who had made song requests apparently on line). Tweedy wondered what was the point of requesting songs that the band would definitely play. There was a smartness (as usual) about Tweedy. He doesn't come off as the warmest guy going, but he has some attitude, and then there are the songs - plenty of them and done quite well.