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Wilco @ The Mann Center with Richard Thompson.

June 6, 2016


Text by Jared Levy. Images by Amy Frear.

Walking around the Mann Center for the Performing Arts on Saturday, you could see various people wearing red hats that read, “Make Wilco Great Again.”

That hat, which is sold on Wilco’s website, spoofs Donald Trump’s slogan, “Make America Great Again,” and the joke works on multiple levels. The most obvious is that Wilco and its lead man Jeff Tweedy are clever satirists who often engage in the political moment.

Another is that Wilco, on their 22nd year as a band, are in the midst of a career renaissance. Their latest album, Star Wars, was a surprise release last July and it marked their return to experimental tendencies and catchy rock sensibilities.

And finally, with this election season well-underway and with Wilco on a country-spanning summer tour, “Make Wilco Great Again” is an appropriate slogan, a mission statement to recapture what makes them one of America’s greatest rock bands.

On their stop in Philadelphia, they seemed to win over many delegates.

The biggest surprise of the night was how long the band played for. The show clocked in at around two and a half hours. It began with the first three songs from Star Wars and then the band wove in songs from their entire catalog.

The unifying theme was a selection of Wilco’s most energetic rock songs. An example of this was three-songs, mid-set, from their second album Being There. They played “Red-Eyed and Blue” followed by “I Got You (At the End of the Century),” and then “Outtasite (Outta Mind).”

Throughout, they looked positively thrilled by their old material. They also dipped into five songs from A Ghost is Born. But the moment of the night came from during a stellar rendition of “Impossible Germany” with an incredible solo from Nels Cline. The spirit of the new album seemed to have infused the whole show, from beginning to end.

The end was extraordinary, too. There was a standard encore. But then the crowd continued to stay, chanting and applauding, while the stage crew rearranged the set-up and the result was a stripped down and miniaturized ensemble of instrumentation.

When the band came back out, Cline played a pedal steel, Mikael Jorgensen played a melodica (it was also his birthday), and Patrick Sansone played the xylophone. On these instruments they worked through fan favorites such as “Jesus Etc.” and “Misunderstood.” Each time it seemed like they found a perfect song to end on, but then they played another.

And as the lyrics of “Misunderstood,” ask, “Do you still love rock and roll?” At the Mann Center on this summer’s tour, Wilco answered with a resounding, “Yes.”

Legendary British guitarist Richard Thompson opened the night with a solo performance.

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