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Live Review: Wilco at The Astro 10-23-2023

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Wilco at The Astro 10-23-2024

“It’s terrifying, but nice for a show”, frontman Jeff Tweedy said last night about the unseasonably warm weather that allowed the show to be moved from the yet-to-be completed inside portion of the Astro theater to the larger outdoor amphitheater. I have been watching Wilco perform live since the AM days, and over the years they have turned into a band that jams. Not a jam band, but there are plenty of extended musical romps in their performance. This has been the case for a long time, and it comes as no surprise to any Wilco fan. In fact, it is part of the reason I was at the show last night. I had kind of given up on the band live after seeing them so much, but I did go to the 2019 show at the Orpheum, and they were doing so many interesting things musically with such impassioned vigor that it jump started my wanting to see them more. My friend that I went to the show with afterwards said, ‘They really do jam a lot’, and I said “Not really that much”. They did, though. I think I see unnecessary noodling in certain genres of music,  painfully dull and soul-crushing, but this is more riffing off of song and experimenting and in the moment. You will say, ‘That is the same thing’, and you may be right, but what Wilco does is enjoyable.

This show didn’t have quite the same impact on me as the last Orpheum show, maybe because a lot of the same musical moments are in play as they were then and it wasn’t quite the jolt to my system, but it was a very good show with many excellent moments. The band has just released their second album in two years, Cousin. Most will say that Wilco’s output in the past decade plus is questionable, and fans have ones they like from this era and don’t like. Cousin has been the one I have connected with, and they performed a handful of songs off of that last night, with the title track “Infinite Surprise” and especially “Evicted” standing out. They didn’t play “Ten Dead”, which is the standout song on the album, but it’s probably not the most timely song to play live and may never be. They also played a few songs off of last year’s Cruel Country, and then completely skipped the previous five albums and focused the rest of the set on the band’s most popular albums, Yankee Hotel Fox Trot, A Ghost Is Born, Summer Teeth, and Sky Blue Sky.

Wilco are a band where you can easily find yourself drifting off the front-person and really watching what each individual musician is doing, even when they are not soloing and the focal point. Mikael Jorgensen towards the back on keyboards is pretty laid back, but when “Theologians” came on (which I didn’t see in other set lists from recent shows), a song he co-wrote came on, and he came to life, and then during one of the crazy freak-out moments that Wilco has built into a couple songs, he was using his seat cushion to run across all of the keys. Watching Pat Sansone is a treat as he sits between multiple keyboards, and if you blink, there he is out front playing guitar. Glenn Kotche is, of course, one of the best drummers around, and bassist John Stirratt takes on a co-front-person role on bass, standing up front and singing harmonies. Tweedy is an amazing guitar player, but his standout moment was when he did “Hummingbird” with no guitar and was full on front-person, even getting the crowd to sing along. I don’t think anyone will debate (Wilco fans will always debate) that Nels Cline is the finest musician in that band, and the things he did on stage last night got inside the listener; at least he did this one. He had a huge spotlight moment where he did a very long guitar solo at the end of “Impossible Germany,” which was the highlight of the set.

The band performed fan favorites such as “Handshake Drugs”, “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart”, “Jesus, Etc”, “I’m The Man Who Loves You”, “Shot in the Arm”, “Via Chicago” and “California Stars”. It was a satisfying set of music and a perfect cap to an elongated season of outdoor music.

This was my first time at the Astro, and the outdoor portion of it is very nice and very functional. I love the large concession areas in the back, and there seem to be some opportunities and space for people to gather away from people enjoying the show if needed. I am sure every show will be set up differently, but as someone who doesn’t like to sit at rock shows and really doesn’t like reserved seats at all, I love having the GA floor and GA lawn, and then there are seats for people that want to or need to sit, and they are in a good place with good site lines above the GA floor crowd. I think that is well thought out. It also sounded great. I look forward to seeing more shows at the venue. Also, for you parking freaks, there is a shit-ton of parking.

Opening the show was Nina Nastiasia, who has been performing music for decades, seemingly under the radar, including mine. She performed a solo with guitar and grabbed me from the first note. She was engaging, and her songs were immediately impactful. It was hard to focus as the majority of the older crowd was talking, as they do, and I couldn’t escape it no matter where I moved. I plan to explore her discography and hope to have the opportunity to see her again with a crowd that appreciates her. She really made an impression on me last night.

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