Over The Weekend: Wilco, Smith Westerns at University of North Texas Auditorium

Wilco, Smith Westerns
UNT Auditorium
May 7, 2011

Better than:
The female country singer loudly covering "Smells Like Teen Spirit" at some bar near campus after the show, and many, many other things.

wilco2.jpg
Autumn de Wilde
Wilco

I've seen Wilco in venues large and small, but I'd never seen them in a jungle before Saturday night. At least that's what it felt like inside the sweltering UNT Auditorium, where tightly packed rows of seating and long lines for merch led more than one fan to curse the show's promoters, who somehow convinced America's greatest rock band to play an ancient 1,500-capacity room on UNT's campus while at the same time forgetting to have anyone sell concessions.

The vending machines were sold out of drinks well before Wilco went on, and save for a single water fountain on each floor, there was nothing else to parch the thirst of the audience -- any enterprising UNT kid with a couple packs of Aquafina would have made a killing in the hallway.

Luckily, Wilco played the kind of show that made you quickly forget such problems, with a solid (if a tad predictable) setlist of hits that drew heavily from the classic Yankee Hotel Foxtrot but touched on every album save A.M.

Guitarist Nels Cline made his presence felt early and often, adding a jazzy guitar outro to the opening "Ashes of American Flags" and playing some mean lap steel during the still-classic "Airline to Heaven," which rode home on the emphatic handclaps of an audience clearly in awe of the musicianship on stage -- in a town full of musicians, no less.

Though not as technically gifted, Jeff Tweedy is still Wilco's best guitarist, a fact he proved again and again on this night, whether he was switching guitars midway through "Handshake Drugs" to shred a hole in the night or giving musical voice to a couple in distress on "At Least That's What You Said," one of the best guitar songs of the past decade, hands down. And even though multi-instrumentalist Pat Sansone clearly spends more time practicing his windmills than his scales, his guitar duel with Cline on the Mermaid Avenue rocker "Hoodoo Voodoo" brought the house down as well.

The live setting also brought out the more subtle elements of Wilco's sound, from drummer Glenn Kotche's intricate rhythms to John Stirratt's melodic, McCartney-esque basslines and Mikael Jorgenson's softly gurgling organ, which was downright stunning on "Jesus, Etc," one of the highlights of the set.

One might say the real MVP of the night was the band's sweet light rig, however, which turned a textured backdrop blood red for the apex of "Shot in the Arm" and lit up the house as the audience screamed "anymor-ore!" along with Tweedy, who proved once again why he's one of the most beloved figures in rock by sticking up for the audience when security frowned upon those who came forward to stand by the totally unnecessary crowd barrier. As Tweedy himself put it, "We're all gonna be arrested tonight. For inciting fun!"

Critic's Notebook:
Personal Bias:
I've seen Wilco 13 times going back to the mid-'90s. I fondly recall making my high school girlfriend's father idle in his car for hours outside Trees in 1997 while we caught the end of the band's set. He was pissed; it was worth it.

Random Note: Chicago's Smith Westerns opened the show with a solid set of jangly garage-pop, and closed the night by responding to internet hecklers with Andrew Bynum-like class on Twitter: "shit talkers on twitter fuck you your opinion on twitter DOESN"T MATTER fuck you."

By The Way: Wilco's new album, tentatively titled Get Well Soon Everybody, comes out in September, but the band is keeping a tight lid on the material judging from the complete lack of new songs played on their current tour. For hardcore fans like me, this is something akin to torture.

Setlist:
Ashes of American Flags
Bull Black Nova
I Am Trying To Break Your Heart
Pot Kettle Black
I'll Fight
Handshake Drugs
One Wing
War on War
Shot in the Arm
At Least That's What You Said
Via Chicago
Jesus, Etc.
Impossible Germany
Airline to Heaven
I Hate It Here
Walken
I'm the Man Who Loves You

ENCORE

Wilco (The Song)
Red-Eyed and Blue
I Got You (At the End of the Century)
Hoodoo Voodoo
Heavy Metal Drummer

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13 comments
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Sybil
Sybil

Perhaps I'm peculiar, but I found it incredibly refreshing to be able to enjoy a band I really like (and have never seen live before) without having to dodge drunk assholes. The lack of beer sales only enhanced the experience as far as I am concerned - band was great, the venue was charming, a really great experience.

I had to laugh at Noah's description of the girl singing the cover of Teen Spirit. I also heard that caterwauling as I walked back to the car...and I walked a bit faster just to get out of earshot.

Keithdylan
Keithdylan

"And even though multi-instrumentalist Pat Sansone clearly spends more time practicing his windmills than his scales."

Judging by the history of Wilco, if Pat was truly lacking anything Tweedy required he'd be gone.

MattL1
MattL1

New album in September, eh? Very cool. I knew it was in the works but had no idea that they were that far along.

elbueno
elbueno

Red Eyed & Blue>At The End of The Century was the highlight for me. And personally, I loved the venue. Felt like when I saw Tweedy at the UT PAC in Austin a few years back. Very intimate feeling. Also, I was in the 5th row. Mighta helped...

Ryan
Ryan

Yeah they didn't play those 4 songs. Wonder why they were left out. Killer show anyway.

ach
ach

I enjoyed the intimate setting of the UNT auditorium. I heard it was an "unofficial" stop just so they could jam out on the 100 yr old organ. Rumors are swirling around that Wilco and Smith Westerns will both be playing ACL this yr. Gotta wait until May 17th to find out for sure..

Crow Daddy Magnus
Crow Daddy Magnus

It's about thime for these guys to move to the larger stages. The Verizon theater (formerly the Nokia) in Grand Prairie would be a wonderful venue for them. Hell, Springsteen played there on his Devil's and Dust tour stop.

Brandon Mohon
Brandon Mohon

Wilco Facebook page has: - 'Sky Blue Sky' after 'Impossible Germany' - 'Poor Places,' 'Reservations,' & 'Spiders (Kidsmoke)' after 'I'm the Man Who Loves You'

Noah W. Bailey
Noah W. Bailey

None of those songs were played. I'm thinking they were on the setlist but nixed due to time restrictions--the show ended neatly at 11 p.m.

Brandon Mohon
Brandon Mohon

Facebook is now confirming that they posted an incorrect setlist. You'd think I would remember the whole set considering there was no booze. Really, nobody else heard Spiders?

Noah W. Bailey
Noah W. Bailey

They didn't play "Spiders," dude. Perhaps you're thinking of "Bull Black Nova" since they both have the kraut-rock thing goin' on.

nffcnnr
nffcnnr

They did not play "Sky Blue Sky"

I'd trust people who actually went to the show over a social media website administrator.

http://twitpic.com/4uu7kl

Brandon Mohon
Brandon Mohon

I'm not 100% sure about Sky Blue Sky either, but Spiders was definitely played.

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