REVIEW: Wilco at The Sylvee

Wilco came to The Sylvee in Madison Monday night, kicking off a fresh leg of their Ode to Joy tour. Being as I’m from Chicago, Wilco’s music has always held strong cultural relevance to me. Whenever I traverse through downtown Chicago and see the iconic tall parking garage, I always think of Wilco. I missed their last Milwaukee stop at the Riverside in 2017 so I couldn’t pass up this opportunity. I hitched a ride with my buddy Tony and his girlfriend and we went to see them.

Wilco is an indie rock-alternative country band consisting of vocalist/guitarist Jeff Tweedy, lead guitarist Nels Cline, bassist/backing vocalist John Stirratt, drummer Glenn Kotche, sampler/synthesizer Mikael Jorgensen, and keyboardist/rhythm guitarist Pat Sansone. They formed in Chicago in 1994 from the ashes of alternative country group Uncle Tupelo, although Tweedy and Stirratt are the only remaining original members. Their sound encompasses twangy, psychedelic, and experimental avenues of modern rock and roll driven by Tweedy’s delicate yet passionate vocals. Ode to Joy, which came out in October, is their eleventh studio album.

Their set lasted about two hours and contained twenty-five total songs. Punctuated by elaborate light displays accommodating their breakdowns, their show was a time capsule of a nearly three-decade-long discography. In addition to seven songs off their new record, they played five from their critically acclaimed 2002 record “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot,” several off “A Ghost is Born” and “Sky Blue Sky,” and a couple from 1996’s “Being There” as the band’s encore. Introduced with “this song is about as old as it gets,” they played “Box Full of Letters” from their 1995 debut album “A.M.” Embedded in their set was a cover of Loose Fur’s “Laminated Cat” as well. Tweedy’s banter between songs included asking “what the fuck is Bud Light seltzer?” and some humor involving the current coronavirus outbreak. He mentioned that he has not had a drink in twenty-eight years and that he suffers from an anxiety disorder, establishing vulnerability with the crowd that had to have been moving for some.

Wilco may not be the most energetically-charged show you’ll see, but their music is nonetheless emotionally ensnaring. Sentiments of love, vulnerability, loneliness, and yearning for better days all get reflected on one Wilco record or another. Those same sentiments reach an equilibrium with Tweedy’s deadpan comic relief in between. I highly recommend seeing them if you connect viscerally with moody experimental rock.

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