In an era of constant disappointment, it’s nice to know that some things will never let you down. Wilco, over the last 20+ years, have consistently delivered great shows to their fans. This years Winterlude At Chicago Theatre was no different.
After hitting 3/6 shows at the Riviera a couple years ago, I cut it down to just 1/4 during this run. The band was tight as ever, celebrating their newest album Ode To Joy. As this time of year is one of reflection, so too is this new album a reflection of their career so far. If you listen to it closely you’ll hear little reminders of previous records throughout.
I poured over the set lists for the nights I didn’t go to and found them all to be really fun bobs and weaves through their catalog. The oldest song they played on night 3 was “Box Full Of Letters,” which goes all the way back to the first Wilco record. The only big miss for me was that they didn’t play “Spiders (Kidsmoke)” when I saw them (they did play it on night 4).
Regardless, it’s a treat to watch these musicians play together. I’ve often called Wilco the best live rock and roll band in the country, and I feel like they prove me right over and over again. Even if 5/6 of the band phoned it in, they’d still have Nels Cline shredding ridiculously and lifting the whole band to rockgod-level greatness.
Jeff wasn’t too talkative, but he seemed to be in a rather playful mood when he did. He told a story about a guy saying he came to see Wilco “Before they were cool” and Jeff lamented that now he was seeing the band AFTER they were cool. He ended by remarking “But we’re all still here, so fuck it.”
Sharon Van Etten opened the show with a solo acoustic set and returned as a guest later. During the encore the band brought out Sima Cunningham from Ohmme and Liam Kazar, who plays in Jeff’s band when he does solo shows. They played “California Stars” together. To end the show everyone came back to the stage for a cover of John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War Is Over).”
It was a fantastic way to end a wonderful night of music. Despite a lot of somewhat depressing songs, Wilco has a general sense of hope and optimism when they play live. That’s always appreciated around the holidays and I left the show with a big smile. An ode to joy indeed.