Review: Wilco @ Wellmont Theatre, NJ 4/3/10

On Saturday night, I made the trek out to Montclair, NJ to catch a fantastic Wilco show at the classic and beautifully-renovated Wellmont Theatre.

Wilco @ Wellmont Theatre,  4/3/10

I was initially a bit annoyed that I couldn’t just take a quick train to see Wilco. I’ve now had 8 months of being spoiled by NYC’s mass transit system and my ability to (usually) get to shows without a ton of effort or need for a car. But once I saw the inside of the Wellmont, I changed my outlook and I immediately remembered the theme from Wilco’s Ashes of American Flags DVD, in which the band focuses on playing classic American theatres and the old downtowns and main streets of smaller U.S. cities. I don’t know much about the area, but the Wellmont Theatre seems to me about as classic an American theatre as you can get. Plus, after the 3+ hour marathon set that the band put on that night, I think the trek was totally worth it.

Wilco @ Wellmont Theatre,  4/3/10

Wilco @ Wellmont Theatre,  4/3/10

These days it seems like Wilco just continues to get better and improve as a cohesive unit on the live stage. It makes sense considering their current lineup is the most consistent it’s really ever been….and it really shows. Jeff Tweedy seems happier and more comfortable than ever. Not only does he sing with energy, clarity, and passion, he is also a regular stage banter comedian, engaging with the crowd between songs for lots of silly back and forth. And as much as the other members play such important roles, a great Wilco show seems to require a happy, mellow and comfortable version of Tweedy. Unless he’s having a serious off-night, these guys just always impress me.

Wilco @ Wellmont Theatre,  4/3/10

Rather than give the play-by-play, I thought I’d offer up a few of my highlights from Saturday’s show, along with some photos and the full setlist:

Marathon Set
The band played for 3+ hours and never left the stage. It was a marathon show coming from a group of guys that ain’t Spring chickens. I liked this.

Tweedy Stage Banter
As I mentioned above, Jeff Tweedy has really opened up the stage banter over the last few years. At one point someone in the crowd yelled “boo-yah” leading him to question the word usage and ask if they meant it ironically. There were a number of moments like this, with Tweedy cracking little jokes, taking jabs at the crowd, and with most of the 2,000 attendees eating up every minute of it.

Summer Teeth Sing Along
Although the “Jesus etc” sing-along seems like it has become a staple, I wasn’t aware that they also got the crowd to sing along for the ending of “Summer Teeth” (for the “ooh ooh, aah aah” part). Lots of fun.

Acoustic Section
Recently, the band added an acoustic section towards the middle of the show, complete with a smaller drum kit, stand-up bass, and even a living room stage set-up with low-light lamps. I really liked their re-worked version “Spiders” which was sort of countrified nearly beyond recognition, but still with its signature groove and rockin’ chorus section.

“Transitions of Noise”
Leading in and out of a number of tunes — and including the transitions between electric and acoustic formats — the band did a number of cool transitions between songs, using a ton of noise. Of course, Wilco is well-known for its noise rock, but this was a bit more than that. These were full “noise transitions” and likely what the jam kids would label as a “>” on a setlist. I especially liked the transition out of the acoustic “Airline to Heaven,” which went from Jeff Tweedy solo acoustic strumming all the way to full-band rock bombast (all with stage hands shuffling away the equipment from the acoustic section). Not only do I love this tune, I loved the way it bridged the gap from quiet, acoustic format back to full-on rock band mode. Perfection.

Glenn’s “Almost Famous – Golden God” moment
I can’t place the exact point in the show, but after an especially badass tune, Glenn Kotche stood up tall on his stool with drum-sticks pointed high in a triumphant display. Although he didn’t yell “I’m a Golden God” — per the Almost Famous reference above — it had a similar exultant feeling and the crowd ate it up, giving the drummer the true appreciation he deserved. I seriously wonder how much pure weight this guy sweats off in a show, as he was consistently dripping in sweat every time I looked his way; serious energy.

Killer Three-Song encore
After such a marathon set, I was pretty amazed that the band played a three-song encore, pulling out three big rock tunes — ” Casino Queen,” “Outtasite (Outta Mind),” and “Hoodoo Voodoo” — to end the night with a serious bang. A killer end to a fantastic show, and yet another example of Wilco continuing to bring its A-game. Good times.

Wilco @ Wellmont Theatre,  4/3/10

Wilco @ Wellmont Theatre,  4/3/10

Wilco @ Wellmont Theatre,  4/3/10

Setlist (from the Via Chicago fan forum)
Wellmont Theatre, Montclair, NJ

Set I:
Ashes of American Flags
Wilco (the song)
I Am trying to Break Your Heart
Blue Black Nova
You Are My Face
One Wing
Shot in the Arm
Muzzle of Bees
Deeper Down
California Stars
Impossible Germany
Poor Places

acoustic section:
You & I
Hesitating Beauty
Laminated Cat
When You Wake Up
Dreamer in My Dreams
Outta Mind (outtasite)

Airline to Heaven
Always in Love
Candy Floss
Jesus etc.
Box of Letters
Can’t Stand It
Hate it Here
You Never Know
I’m the Man Who Loves You
Thank You Friends (Big Star cover)
In the Street (Big Star cover)

Casino Queen
Outta Site (Outta Mind)
Hoodoo Voodoo