Wilco North American Tour Wrapup: The Anatomy Of The Setlists

We have had no shortage of news to report on HT favorites Wilco recently. First, there was last week’s news of Wilco’s extensive 14-show west coast swing in early 2012. Then video of Wilco’s appearance on Talk Stoop, our review and photo gallery of Wilco’s recent shows in Central Park, the band’s continually expanding run of shows in Chicago in December and of course audio of lead guitarist Nels Cline playing Duane Allman’s 1957 Les Paul at a recent show in Georgia.

[Photo by Jeremy Gordon]

While that was going on, Wilco last week wrapped up a 15-show swing of the Northeast, South and Midwest. While we normally save our post-tour setlist analysis geekery for Phish in our The Number Line feature, we decided to give Wilco tour a shot to discover interesting setlists trends and patterns. What follows is a brief analysis of the anatomy of setlists from the recent run of shows.

OVERVIEW

Over the 15 shows, Wilco played 57 different songs, 3 of which were covers.

By the end of the tour, they were playing no less than 23 songs per show, though there were a couple shows at the beginning where the band was only playing 20 songs and calling it a night. The increase in songs showed up mostly in the encore slot as the curtain calls grew from 4 or 5 tunes to 6-8 as the tour went on. Only one show, Sept. 17, saw a double encore with the band playing 5 songs, leaving the stage and returning for I’m A Wheel, in the words of Nelson, “…But then bam – second encore.”

SONG STATS

Only 6 songs were played every night of the tour (15 times) regardless of multi-night stands at the same venue and they were: A Shot in the Arm, Art Of Almost, Born Alone, I Am Trying to Break Your Heart, I Might and Impossible Germany – while Dawned On Me and Whole Love were played all but one night (14 times).

13-10 times: (13) Jesus, Etc., Handshake Drugs, One Sunday Morning (Song For Jane Smiley’s Boyfriend), (12) Bull Black Nova, I’m the Man Who Loves You, (11) War On War and (10) Standing O.

9-5 times: (9) One Wing, Via Chicago, Outtasite (Outta Mind), (7) Black Moon, 36 Inches High, (6) Monday, Rising Red Lung, I Love My Label, (5) At Least That’s What You Said, Ashes of American Flags, I Got You (At The End Of The Century), Red-Eyed and Blue, Walken, Shouldn’t Be Ashamed, Heavy Metal Drummer and Poor Places

4-2 times: (4) Hummingbird, Misunderstood, Pot Kettle Black, Late Greats, California Stars, Box Full of Letters, (3) I’m Always in Love, (2) How to Fight Loneliness, She’s A Jar, Side With The Seeds and Capitol City

1 timers: Company In My Back, I’m A Wheel, In A Future Age , Kamera, Reservations, You Are My Face, Passenger Side, Say You Miss Me, Muzzle of Bees, Hate It Here, Less Than You Think, I’ll Fight, Open Mind, New Madrid and Casino Queen.

But these 1 timers did not come once per show, 2 shows saw 6 of the 15 rarities: Sept. 17 in Toronto saw the only performance of: Company In My Back, I’m A Wheel and Kamera and Oct. 2 at The Ryman in Nashville saw: Less Than You Think, I’ll Fight and Open Mind.

SONG PLACEMENTS:

Show Openers: At the beginning of the tour, Wilco was opening every show with Art Of Almost while mixing it up with a show-opening One Sunday Morning (Song For Jane Smiley’s Boyfriend) when they were playing two-night stands. Towards the end of the tour, One Sunday Morning (Song For Jane Smiley’s Boyfriend) had become the opener of choice as it opened 3 of the last 5 shows, while the other 2 shows had the show opening honors go to Less Than You Think and Capitol City.

Main Set Closers: There was definitely a show closer of choice in A Shot In The Arm which closed 9 of the 15 shows. Hummingbird (3), One Sunday Morning (Song For Jane Smiley’s Boyfriend) (2) and I’m The Man Who Loves You (1) took the honors at all other shows.

ALBUMS:

Many new songs were missing in action. With the exception of Impossible Germany (played every night) there were only 9 other instances of songs from Wilco’s 2007 album Sky Blue: Walken (5), Side With The Seeds (2), Your Are My Face (1) and Hate It Here (1). (2010 plays in parentheses)

Similarly, 2009’s Wilco (The Album) only saw the basically every night Bull Black Nova (12), the more often than not One Wing (9) and one performance of I’ll Fight. Noticeably absent were 2010 staples (2010 plays in parentheses) such as You Never Know (52), Wilco (The Song) (46) and Sonny Feeling (20).

While 1999’s Summerteeth narrowly beat out 2004′s A Ghost Is Born in total plays 31 to 30, more unique songs were played from A Ghost Is Born (8) compared to Summerteeth (6). Both albums plays combined still can’t touch Wilco’s masterpiece: 2002’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and it’s 72 tour plays. One omission of note from A Ghost Is Born is Spiders (Kidsmoke) which was totally missing in action despite 34 plays in 2010 – perhaps Wilco has shelved this noise-rock outro in exchange for Art Of Almost.

From the first two Wilco albums, Being There outpaced A.M., 29 plays to 11 – with Being There’s 7 unique songs to A.M.’s 4. It was a particularly good tour for the A.M. song, Shouldn’t Be Ashamed, which was played 5 times – having not been played since Red Rocks 2009. It also went missing for 10 years starting in the late 90’s. [Edit: Commenter Justin Badlam points out that it was actually played at this year’s Solid Sound Festival as well]

Noticeably absent were the songs in Wilco’s repertoire recorded for the Mermaid Avenue albums, the only song present in setlists was California Stars, played at only 4 shows. The noticeably absent songs with Woody Guthrie penned lyrics included (2010 plays in parentheses): Hoodoo Voodoo (29), Airline To Heaven (15), Remember The Mountain Bed (8), Someday, Some Morning, Sometime (7), One By One (5) with all others not played.

GUEST(S) & COVERS

English singer-songwriter Nick Lowe opened every show of the tour, but it wasn’t until 8 shows in that Wilco invited him to play Nick Ford’s 36 Inches High. The following night, and every night after (except 1) they would also collaborate on Lowe’s I Love My Label, which Wilco recently released as a b-side to the I’ll Might single. Speaking of Nick Lowe, we recently tackled (What’s So Funny) ‘Bout Peace Love & Understanding as a Cover Wars if you missed it. And speaking of covers, there was one more – a single performance of New Madrid, a tune from Jeff Tweedy’s old band Uncle Tupelo.

How do I keep track of all of this? Well, setlist.fm is a great tool – as long as the data is clean. As the tour went on, I made sure that the setlists being entered (by other users, crowdsourced) didn’t have any incorrect song titles so the data at the end would be clean, here is the link for the stats for the tour. You’ll note that the album data for The Whole Love is not displayed correctly also California Stars is listed under “Other” as well. Wilco actually keeps setlists on their site as well and very recently (I think) started adding a pie chart with the distribution of songs over the albums, I actually didn’t notice the album feature on Wilco’s website until last night – not sure how knew it is. And my secret weapon is this Google Doc I kept in a format that only I seem to find convenient, but it helps me identify trends – it is sort of like looking at The Matrix.

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6 Responses

  1. Awesome stuff. Can’t believe they haven’t busted out one Kidsmoke! But I suppose I am fine with some combination of Bull Black, Via Chicago, At least that’s what you said or Art of Almost

  2. Thanks for the work DaveO. Great stuff. Here’s one stat (non-setlist though)that I’m still looking for the reason for: as far as I can tell from the nightly photos and videos, Boston was the only show where they didn’t use the band’s stage backdrop and full light show. Wondering why.

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