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(Photo by Mikki Gomez)


Sydney Opera House, March 21

GREATNESS IS OVERRATED and certainly overused. We elevate in emotion and remember in a glow, and we are all too eager to find it, even if sometimes we have the equivalent of the morning after the night before years on as we realise, yeah, maybe it wasn’t quite that special now that we think about it.

So there’s a caveat to be placed on reviews like this that declare – as I must – that Wilco is one of the great bands and that this was one of the (not perfect, which we’ll get to, yet still) great shows. But dammit with the caveat, so much about this night thrilled to the core.

For long-time travellers there was a set list which traversed their decades-long career as if it were a box of no-orange-ones family favourites. They dipped into their 1995 debut A.M. with the breezy ‘60s 12 string guitar jangle and punchy drums, of Box Full Of Letters – which crowned the first hour – as comfortably as they approached last year’s trotting-paced Evicted, which has just enough of a hint of Raspberry Beret to cast sunlight on to its grey sky story.

They fired up songs from the slightly better known second album Being There, via the silver satin-tinged parenthetical double hit of Outtasite (Outta Mind) and I Got You (At The End Of The Century) – which closed the night with a Who-like blend of midland rock fuelled by power pop – with the same ease they brought to the waltz shuffle and earned wisdom of 2022’s I Am My Mother.

For aficionados of the subtleties of rhythm there was John Stirratt (whose Hofner electric bass on Handshake Drugs was so warm and woody it sounded as if he were playing an upright) and Glenn Kotche (whose drums could hint and suggest through Cruel Country or invoke the clamour of collapsing new buildings in Via Chicago) to play forward and back like some musical Isaac Heeney.

(L-R: Nels Cline, Jeff Tweedy, Mikael Jorgensen, John Stirratt. Photo by Mikki Gomez)

Even if the opening seven-song bracket of laid-back country shapes, which began with the forlorn trans-urbanite Hell Is Chrome, was one or two songs too long, for lovers of the broadest range of Americana, Wilco can add to those the Randy Newman-ish Hummingbird, the folk charmer of California Stars, the wistful bright rock of Heavy Metal Drummer, and the blend of resonator guitar, sound effects, decoupling breakdown and anxiety that squeezes into I Am Trying To Break Your Heart.

And for those for whom the possibilities of guitar remain open, there was the small thing of wonder that was the doubled solo in Side With The Seeds (Nils Cline and Pat Sansone entwined), the dovetailed climax of Bird Without A Tail/Base Of My Skull (Cline and Sansone duelling into acceptance), and the closing out triple guitar feedback (Cline, Sansone and Jeff Tweedy in a siren call, not a revolt) of Handshake Drugs. All of which still bow down to Impossible Germany, where the liquid guitars pour honey as a prelude to Cline’s tour-de-force solo that in ten minutes (or 20 or 30 - who noticed time?) covered New Orleans and Oklahoma, New York and west Texas, Los Angeles and Macon.

I haven’t even mentioned Tweedy’s vocals, which were simultaneously relaxed, aching, cutting and vibrant, especially in the dedication dressed as a caress of Jesus, Etc. Or the pleasure coursing through The Late Greats that prepared the way for the shot of energy in the dark pointedness of A Shot In The Arm. Let alone the sense of lightness that moved two hours on stage into next to nothing.

Great great band. Great great show.

A version of this review was first published in The Sydney Morning Herald.


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