Wilco: The Pageant, St. Louis 5/16/08

“It’s good to be back home,” Jeff Tweedy said midway through Wilco’s second of three consecutive performances at The Pageant.   And after all, this is home for Tweedy, who once was a St. Louis icon in the early 90s with his old band, Uncle Tupelo.  That was before he settled in Chicago and took off with Wilco, releasing albums like Being There, Summerteeth, and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, leaving his youthful days in St. Louis behind.

And if only home could be so easy for him.  People here still wonder if there will ever be an Uncle Tupelo reunion with Jay Farrar, who remains living in St. Louis.  They still want him to be playing here constantly as their hometown boy.  But the truth is, Jeff Tweedy and Wilco have moved on, and they’ve never sounded better.

Playing to a sold out room that remained attentive and fun from the opening “Via Chicago” to the closing “The Late Greats,” Tweedy and his band mates were firing shots and killing moving targets all night long.  The current lineup, Tweedy, John Stirrart, Glenn Kotche, Nels Cline, Pat Sansone, and Mike Jorgensen, now intact since the 2004 tour for A Ghost is Born, is clearly in its groove, and is having a grand time making music together.

Throughout 26 enjoyable songs, never once did the pace seem unplanned or forced; even moving from the sweet “Jesus, Etc,” to the guitar-ending battle of “Impossible Germany” was a delightful pairing.  It’s a sign of a confident band in its comfortable, yet still open-minded years of enjoying its songs with an appreciate room of people, taking subtle risks in each show.

And did the crowd ever enjoy themselves, often singing along, most notably to “A Shot in the Arm” (“Ohhhhh you changed”), “Kamera” (“No, it’s not ok”), “Hate it Here,” (“I hate it here/ When you’re gone”), and “Casino Queen,” (“Casino Queen/ My Lord you’re mean”).   From where I was standing on the floor, there were many times when I couldn’t hear Jeff Tweedy’s voice, and judging by the smile on his face, that was just alright with him.

But the highlight of the night didn’t come from Tweedy or the rapt audience.  John Stirratt drew the biggest applause after his performance of A.M.’s “It’s Just That Simple,” which featured the veteran bass player on lead vocals.  Looking just fine leading the band with an acoustic guitar in his hands, Stirratt nailed the tune while Tweedy swayed in the wings with a bass guitar, which was his specialty back in the Uncle Tupelo days.  It was a fine nod to Stirratt, who’s been in Wilco since their first live show in St. Louis back in November of 1994.

“I’m going away, will you look for me?” Jeff Tweedy would ask later on “Theologians,” which would help close out the main set.   But Tweedy and Wilco wouldn’t go away quietly during the encores.  The beautiful Yankee Hotel Foxtrot transition from “Poor Places” to “Reservations” started things off, while the rest of the night was a showcase of guitars that featured “Spiders (Kidsmoke),” “I’m Always in Love,” and the third encore, “The Late Greats.” 

St. Louis may no longer be the city where Jeff Tweedy lives, but fans here will always be looking for him, hoping he won’t go away for long.

Live photo by Laurie Charlot

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