If you're the mayor of a cold northern city and want a popular band to return to your town, do you:
A. Bribe them
B. Make sure the venue they've booked sounds perfect
C. Try to convince them to live there
When Wilco played in Duluth Friday night, Mayor Don Ness went with option C, and dubbed the Chicago alt-rockers an honorary Duluth band. It didn't matter that the group had only performed there two times before, the last time being a fog-filled show in 2007.
"A teenage boy came up to us and said he was the mayor," lead singer Jeff Tweedy said six songs into the show, holding up a blue folder that housed the document Ness presented him backstage before the concert. "He gave it to us. We think it's legit," he said. So, Jeff Tweedy and his bandmates have a home in Duluth -- if they want it.
Over their 16 years as a band, Wilco has gone through a few lineup shifts, and it was clear that all of that fierce touring and recording Jeff Tweedy has been on ever since has earned them plenty of loyal fans. Whenever Tweedy needed crowd response, he would hold up his "official" folder, which would elicit fans to cheer. And each time he did, the man in front of me shook his head violently and pumped his fists in a fit of pure ecstasy, turning around and yelling things like "Is this happening?!" and "This can't be real!"
Wilco's show was a two-hour marathon that showcased many -- but not all -- of the eras of Jeff Tweedy's songwriting. The band opened with "Wilco (The Song)," off of their 2009 album Wilco (The Album). Out of the gate, the sound was muddled with a layer of high frequency waves that threw off the band's balance and dampened the low register stabbing of lead guitarist Nels Cline's riffs. The understated instrumental melodies and subtleties that define Wilco's albums were clouded -- but not ruined -- for a good portion of the show when the group picked up the volume. But as the show progressed, so did the sound engineer, the musicians, and the crowd's enthusiasm.
Though the crowd was on their feet the whole show, Cline's solo on Sky Blue Sky's "Impossible Germany" was masterful, and the crowd appreciated it almost as much as the following song, "Handshake Drugs," from A Ghost is Born. However, before the encore set there hadn't been one song from A.M., Being There or Summer Teeth.
There was no question that the eight-song encore was the highlight of the show, as the musicians had settled into a perfect balance. If the first part of the show was a marathon, the encore was a 100-meter dash of favorites from earlier albums, one after another with not much chit-chat in between. Wilco ended the show on the Woodie Guthrie cover "Hoodoo Voodoo," which caused the crowd to scream and the guy in front of me to start hugging everybody within arms reach.