Just before things started closing down, just before 2020 was the last time I saw Wilco perform at The Anthem and hot on the heels of the release of their last LP, Ode to Joy. Since the nearly two years since I’d seen them last, Jeff Tweedy and the band have kept fans engaged with things like the Instagram show (there has to be a better word for this) “The Tweedy Show,” broadcast from Jeff’s home with his family and sometimes guests like the other members of Wilco — a homemade variety show with Jeff, Sammy, and Spencer Tweedy often singing / guitar playing / drumming to Tweedy and Wilco songs along with some fantastic covers.
And just in the past month, Jeff has even started a weekly substack which is like a personal newsletter / inspirational / confessional, maybe called “Starship Casual” where the songwriter shares musings and even rough bits of new songs (or songs-to-be). Basically, the band has been keeping things fresh and us fans fed, so to speak. So, after the announcement that Wilco would be touring again this summer, I couldn’t wait to see the guys — Jeff, John, Mikael, Nels, Pat, and Glenn — back again in the DC area. This time at Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Maryland.
Heading into Merriweather Post Pavilion on a sweltering Friday afternoon, I had nearly forgotten how big this place was. And as the sun began its slow decent I was glad of the breeze running through the outdoor venue. This set things up for a fantastic set by fellow Chicagoan, NNAMDÏ and the return of Sleater-Kinney who had just released their latest LP, Path of Wellness performed a blistering set of favorites and new songs from the new album.
After the sun set on Aug. 20, Wilco took the stage under the cooling canopy of Merriweather, but that’s not to say the band didn’t bring the heat as the sextet seemed refreshed to the point where Wilco seemed like a younger band, filling the mostly well-known songs with a life or an urgency I hadn’t seen in a long time. And they certainly set the stage (pun intended) with “A Shot In The Arm” — both a great tune and also, maybe, a subtle reminder of the current state of things as concert goers showed proof of vaccination before entering the venue.
After a few from band’s most recent LP, Ode to Joy, including what may be the first time I’ve heard “You Are My Face” performed live, Wilco kept this crowd on its toes with a fantastic “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart” and as the band started in on “Art of Almost” I was taken by the big bombastic lights and trailing beams across the back of the stage, emphasizing each line and the frenetic guitars right before the end. And there was one thing I missed seeing, which, honestly, I could never get tired of — seeing Jeff Tweedy strut across the stage. There was definitely a sense of, well, joy throughout the entire performance. In fact, I swear it was apparent the band was happy to be back, as, after a Nels Cline’s solo on “Impossible Germany,” Jeff remarked, “I missed that.”
In one funny and poignant moment, after performing “Love Is Everywhere (Beware)” Jeff remarked, “This is one of the newer songs we’ll be playing tonight on our record Ode to Joy that came out just before all the ‘joy’.” But making up for all that time, what I witnessed was one of the best rock and roll shows I’ve seen in my aging memory banks. From the rollicking “Everyone Hides,” which had a lot of bite, especially the kerrang of Nels’s guitar to Pat Sansone doing Pete Townsend proud with his guitar windmills to seeing John Stirratt leap up with his bass — this was a band having fun!
There was even a moment when the band played a particularly hilarious Doors-y version of “Heavy Metal Drummer” with Jeff Tweedy doing a pretty good Jim Morrison before kicking into the song we all know so well.
Wilco came back out for the encore for a few older tunes, including “Outtasite (Outta Mind)” and “California Stars.” A cap to a brilliant show that left us all wanting more.
Wilco continue their tour through the US through the end of October. Definitely catch them here!
The setlist included:
A Shot In The Arm
Random Name Generator
You Are My Face
I Am Trying To Break Your Heart
Art Of Almost
If I Ever Was A Child
Love Is Everywhere (Beware)
Box Full Of Letters
I’m the Man Who Loves You
Heavy Metal Drummer
I’m Always In Love
The Late Greats
Outtasite (Outta Mind)
Here are some photos of Wilco performing at Merriweather Post Pavillion on Aug. 20, 2021. All photos copyright and courtesy David LaMason.