Wilco at the Riviera Theatre | Live review + photos
So, let's get a few things out of the way. Unfortunately, Mavis Staples didn't show up to belt out any tunes, there was no fake snow falling onto the stage and the night was bereft of any opera humor. Yes, Tuesday night's show at the Riviera Theatre—Wilco's first appearance at the venue since their five night residency there all the way back in 2008—was an almost entirely different beast than Monday's homecoming. What the performance may have lacked in spectacle, it made up for with its intimate surroundings and a setlist that favored some the band's deeper cuts.
Following a rousing opening set by Chicago alt-rock stalwarts Eleventh Dream Day, Jeff Tweedy and his cohorts took to the stage, beginning with the understated strum of "Less Than You Think." Quickly shifting focus to its newest material, the band turned in a visually and sonically arresting rendition of The Whole Love standout "Art of Almost," the stage awash in alternating swashes of color as Nels Cline let loose a six-stringed barrage over Glenn Kotche's impossibly intricate rhythms. The steady, thumping refrains of "I Might" provided a fitting counterpoint, refining the group's more experimental tendencies into a concise, pop-rock statement.
Boasting eight full-length records worth of material at its disposal, Wilco didn't waste its time repeating songs from the previous evening. With the exception of the reappearing tracks from The Whole Love, the band employed an entirely new setlist—one that put more stock in fan favorites than live staples. The incessant stabs of "Bull Black Nova" gave way to the wistful jangle of "Red-Eyed and Blue" before swiftly exploding into easy rocker "I Got You (At The End Of The Century)." The intermittently soaring riffs of "Born Alone" and the delicately grandiose "Black Moon" rounded out the notable newer tracks, while an inherently goofy performance of "I Must Be High" served as a reminder of the group's earliest days. Attention turned to keyboardists Mikael Jorgensen and Pat Sansone, as they fleshed out rearranged versions of the synth-heavy Summerteeth-era tunes "I'm Always In Love" and "Can't Stand It." However, it was Tweedy who received the lion's share of unsolicited accolades, fielding numerous compliments concerning his choice of headwear before closing out the main set with jaunty piano ballad "Hummingbird."
The night's first encore began with the almost obligatory "Via Chicago," replete with scattered hoots and hollers accompanying every mention of the titular city. The Spongebob Squarepants soundtrack-gracing rarity "Just A Kid" made an appearance, just before the group struck into their second encore. Wrapped up in the prolonged, pulsing beat of "Spiders (Kidsmoke)," one couldn't help but admire the tenacity of bassist John Stirratt, dutifully strumming away at a single note for minutes on end before cathartically attacking the track's refrain. By the time closing song "I'm A Wheel" came to a halt, over two hours and 29 songs had flown by.
Providing a suitable comedown from the previous evening's extravagant festivities, Wilco's performance at the Riviera honed in on fan-pleasing song choices in a setting that the perennially successful group outgrew years ago. As has been the case with past homecomings, Wilco returns to us in prime condition, intent on making each performance unique and leaving each attendant satisfied. And if the group's back-catalog mining tendencies continue throughout the week, there's even a possibility that drunk asshole screaming "Passenger Side" between every song will finally be placated. Maybe.