I have a theory that Wilco is the greatest American rock band, past or present. They've been my favorite band for a decade, so honestly I'm a little biased, but last night at Fort Worth's Will Rogers Auditorium, Jeff Tweedy and Co. only strengthened my faith in the idea, running through a transcendent 21-song set (with two encores) drawing largely from their last two records.
A Tweedy-encouraged sing-a-long helped "Jesus, Etc." soar, aided by the interstellar guitar playing of Nels Cline, who perfectly mimicked the violin parts of the recorded version. In fact, Cline kept jaws on the floor for much of the night, adding memorable guitar pyrotechnics to "Via Chicago," "At Least That's What You Said" and "Impossible Germany," the best of three new songs the band previewed and the first Wilco tune to feature fluid, jazzy guitar lines clearly composed by Cline.
Two other new tunes, "Walken" and "Let's Not Carried Away", were somewhat reminiscent of the band's concert-friendly Being There sound, with the former recalling Little Feat and the latter featuring Glenn Kotche's first honest-to-goodness drum solo, complete with the rest of the band on maracas, shakers and tambourines. The show also featured the coolest light display this side of a Blue Oyster Cult concert, with red lights flashing through the "something in my veins, bloodier than blood" climax of "A Shot in the Arm" and enough rapidly moving spotlights to send an epileptic into fits.
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Joking with the crowd and dedicating "The Late Greats" to Dallas soul legend Bobby Patterson, with whom Tweedy and Golden Smog shared a stage at the South by Southwest Music Festival in 1996, Tweedy was in good spirits despite the death of his mother two weeks ago; it seems a week on the road has been good therapy. Or maybe it was just the Auditorium: Will Rogers may be the best venue of its size in North Texas, and the band sounded fantastic in it, with every piano, chime and brushed cymbal perfectly audible in the mix. The next time any rock band worth its salt gets booked there, don't hesitate to snag a ticket--you won't regret it. --Noah W. Bailey