Wilco Kick Off Pacific Northwest Run in Portland with Non-stop Fan Favorites (SHOW REVIEW/PHOTOS)

On Tuesday, October 5th, beloved Chicago indie rockers Wilco kicked off their long-awaited Pacific Northwest run with the first of two shows in Portland, Oregon. The show also marked the band’s first Portland gigs since 2016 when they were supporting their Schmilco album. Given the five-year gap and the forced benching of shows due to the pandemic, fans in the Rose City were excited to say the least. This time around, Wilco is supporting their 2019 album Ode to Joy, but Tuesday’s show was hardly an album release show as the band took an almost entirely different course.

Compared to their last Portland appearance (REVIEW) – also at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall – Tuesday’s show found the band opting for a more stripped down stage setup with impressive lights but only a screen projecting imagery behind them. In this regard, it felt like a return to form for the band as they clearly wanted little to get in the way of the musicianship. Front man Jeff Tweedy – normally quite chatty – also stayed fairly quiet during the show, remarking, “I’m just excited to play!” Few bands have a song title that weirdly speaks to our current moment, so it felt only right that the band opened with “A Shot in the Arm” to ecstatic applause and shining as Mikael Jorgensen used a sofa pillow to create a cacophony of organ noise. “Random Name Generator” followed with a Nels Cline/Jeff Tweedy guitar shred-off, which would be a reoccurring theme throughout the night. Newer songs were sprinkled across the set, but for this tour opener Tweedy and co. kept it fairly straightforward with some of their best-known tunes. The hushed folk of “One and a Half Stars” was little more than a breather before “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart,” which segued awesomely into the dark dance-y ambience of “Art of Almost,” which was a show standout with its electronic effects and multi-instrument attack that ended with an explosion of strobe lights and guitar rocking. “Via Chicago” was done slow and majestic courtesy of Pat Sansone’s piano, with the soft beauty contrasted by extra loud drum madness from Glenn Kotche, while Nels Cline would give his guitar an almost orchestral quality on “Love is Everywhere (Beware)” before having his quintessential moment in the spotlight with “Impossible Germany.”

Despite Wilco’s movement towards a more happy and twee folk sound on their last couple of albums – not to mention Jeff Tweedy’s solo work – the band seemed intent on delivering straight uncut rock and roll with little frills. “Hummingbird” was pure ELO throwback pop goodness, while “Box Full of Letters” and “I’m the Man Who Loves You” were reliably guitar-forward, anthemic rockers. They would lean heavily into Yankee Hotel Foxtrot as they made their way to the end of the night, with “Heavy Metal Drummer” – complete with Tweedy doing a jokey noir detective intro – and “Ashes of American Flags” that featured one of the biggest guitar solos of the night from Nels Cline, ever the wizard on his axe.

Over the course of more than two hours, the band wailed through many of their biggest fan favorites and seemed to be loving every second of it as each member got a chance to showcase his instrumental talent. For casual Wilco fans, this was like an ultimate greatest hits show, and for the die-hards looking for deep cuts, it was still a fairly energetic set that spanned the band’s career. But for everyone attending and the band themselves, it was a moment of pure joy (an ode perhaps?) getting to savor this return to Portland and semi-normalcy.  

All photos by Greg Homolka

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