Review: ‘Wilco’

Wilco has garnered its fair share of kudos over the past decade and a half, but they've seldom been in contention for "feel-good show of the summer" honors -- a fact they remedied with gusto at this thoroughly engaging show supporting the breezy new Nonesuch album "Sky Blue Sky."

Wilco has garnered its fair share of kudos over the past decade and a half, but they’ve seldom been in contention for “feel-good show of the summer” honors — a fact they remedied with gusto at this thoroughly engaging show supporting the breezy new Nonesuch album “Sky Blue Sky.”

Frontman Jeff Tweedy was in unusually good spirits, showing off some affably geeky dance moves during “Hummingbird” and leading into a warm, organ-tinged take on “Jesus, Etc,” by asking the aud to “make something pretty happen” — a request fulfilled by a goodly number of volunteer backing vocalists.

Those attitudinal changes were mirrored in reworkings of several staples of the band’s live set. While Wilco has seldom played things close to the vest in terms of improvisation, the extended instrumental passages incorporated into “Poor Places” and “I’m the Man Who Loves You” were considerably fierier than the brow-furrowing renditions that often cropped up in years past.

The shift can be traced in part to the versatility of guitarist Nels Cline, whose avant-garde background belies an ability to spin gossamer psychedelic leads and startling shredder riffs — with which he goosed “Side With the Seeds” and “You Are My Face” into aerobic overdrive.

After closing the set’s body with a spiraling “Spiders (Kidsmoke)” — punctuated by an intricate game of intra-band patty-cake — the sextet returned for a first encore aimed squarely at the heart rather than the head. Their aim was true on the sweetly aching “Impossible Germany,” buoyed by Pat Sansone’s chiming third guitar, and the airy title track to “Sky Blue Sky,” both of which left smiles that lingered well into the night.

Mood-rock vets Low split their hushed 40-minute opening set evenly between hymns of hope and dissertations on desperation. The band’s all-tension, no-release approach drove home the point that it’s possible to come across as crushingly heavy while operating at a volume that’d barely register on a decibel meter.

Wilco plays the Greek Theater in Los Angeles on Aug. 29.

Wilco

Hammerstein Ballroom, New York; 3,300 capacity; $35

Production

Presented by Live Nation. Reviewed June 25, 2007.

Cast

Band: Jeff Tweedy, Nels Cline, Pat Sansone, John Stirratt, Mikael Jorgensen, Glenn Kotche.
Also appearing: Low.
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