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Stage Buzz: Review and Photo Gallery • Wilco, Sleater-Kinney at Pritzker Pavillion

| August 29, 2021 | 0 Comments

Wilco, Sleater-Kinney, Nnamdï

Jay Pritzker Pavilion, Millennium Park, Chicago, IL

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Review by Jeff Elbel

Photo Gallery by Curt Baran

Saturday’s performance at Pritzker Pavilion was Wilco’s first hometown show since December 2019, when the band supported 2019’s Ode to Joy album at the Chicago Theatre. After 20 months of waiting, Jeff Tweedy and company named their co-billed tour with Sleater-Kinney It’s Time. It was the final night of the bands’ run together. With the energy of a supportive hometown crowd on a warm summer night, spirits were high.

“A Shot in the Arm” launched the set list with Sleater-Kinney principals Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein joining, reflecting a special offering at the merch table. A tour-exclusive vinyl single had the bands covering one of the other’s songs. Sleater-Kinney’s version of “A Shot in the Arm” was accompanied by Wilco’s version of “Modern Girl.” Tweedy strummed breezy folk-pop chords and sang the song’s winsome melody. Guitarist Nels Cline scratched and slashed at his battered Fender Jaguar, plying his trade by making a pretty song weird.

Resident drumming virtuoso Glenn Kotche began his master class with a taut, bouncing beat for “Random Name Generator” while founding bassist John Stirratt joined Tweedy on vocals. The band pulled back for an intimate, vulnerable start to “At Least That’s What You Said” before unleashing their full force and Tweedy’s own stinging solos. “Maybe if I leave, you’ll want me to come back home,” sang Tweedy in the first of several allusion to returning to local activity onstage.

The waltz-time “Love is Everywhere” spiraled with Cline’s curlicue guitar figures, Kotche’s Ringo Starr-styled fills and the healing sentiment of Tweedy’s chorus. Local singalong favorite “Via Chicago” ambled as another soothing crooner only to be subverted twice by storming cacophony from Cline and Kotche. Mikael Jorgensen’s percolating electropop keyboards gave “Art of Almost” an urbane vibe echoing the Who’s “Eminence Front.” An icy krautrock coda was reminiscent of likeminded musical chameleons Radiohead and touches of Giorgio Moroder. Such moments were reminders that while rooted in alt-country, Wilco’s expansive sound might as well slot them into the experimental and progressive rock categories.

“Aw, man. We missed you,” said Tweedy. “We missed that,” he added while pointing to Cline, who had just reduced another fretboard to splintered embers. Proving that not every song had to be turned inside-out and blasted into cacophonic smithereens, Wilco played “Impossible Germany” with sensitivity and restraint – although Cline was provided ample time to dazzle with an extended Tom Verlaine-styled solo, trading angular runs and flurries with aching melody.

The audience’s voices grew louder while singing along to “Hummingbird.” Tweedy let his guitar rest during the song, leading the crowd in clapping and pausing to give Cline a mid-song shoulder massage.

“This is for the old timers,” said Tweedy. “That’s a lot of you,” he added cheekily. The band dove into the jangle-pop of A.M. favorite “Box Full of Letters.” The arrangement featured multi-instrumentalist Pat Sansone on guitar, with a high-octane, string-bending solo a la Mike Campbell. Tweedy next dedicated Ode to Joy’s effervescent “Everyone Hides” to the new-timers.

“My mom used to tell me that you’re born alone, and you die alone,” said Tweedy. “I wrote this song because I wanted to remind myself that she’s wrong.” The band played “Born Alone,” with Cline’s white-noise slide guitar. “Sorry, ma,” Tweedy said afterward.

“What an amazing night,” said Tweedy. “I feel pretty lucky.” He invited the crowd to sing the intimate “Jesus, Etc.,” gliding atop Stirratt’s Motown-styled bass, Jorgensen’s gospel organ, and Sansone’s mellotron. “Our love is all God’s money,” sang Tweedy and audience alike. The band stuck with near-religious references by shifting to “Theologians” next.

Tweedy’s opening feedback heralded the familiar introduction to “I’m the Man Who Loves You.” Tweedy played unfettered solos while Kotche was a blur of motion and smiling teeth beneath his sweaty mop of hair. Tweedy then began “Heavy Metal Drummer” with a comically-serious spoken word intro of the song’s opening stanzas, while the band played a brooding soundtrack a la the Doors’ “The End.”

Afterward, Tweedy announced the inevitable. “We’re running out of time,” he said to scattered moans of regret. “We live here. We’ll be back,” he promised. Wilco closed the main set with the driving power-pop of “I’m Always in Love.” Sansone borrowed the keys to the Cars’ “Just What I Needed,” playing a blissed-out synthesizer melody.

The band returned for an encore of “The Late Greats,” swinging hard and borrowing rhythm and classic Americana style from Levon Helm and the Band. Tweedy invited fans to the rim of the stage for a euphoric conclusion with “Outtasite (Outta Mind).”

 

Sleater-Kinney’s generous opening set occurred as the sun was setting, much to guitarist and singer Carrie Brownstein’s stated preference. All the better to see friends in aisles, recognizing them with smiles and waves. “You guys come right up front,” she said after finishing new song “High in the Grass.” “These guys are just sitting,” she said while pointing at people in the VIP rows. “Just get right up in front of ‘em.”

The show drew heavily from new album Path of Wellness, including songs like Brownstein’s brash condemnation of uniquely male hypocrisy in “Complex Female Characters.” “Down the Line” was driven by Billy Athens’ bass pulse and lifted by Galen Clark’s keyboard solo, with Brownstein’s buzzing electric guitar leading the way.

“I know the last 16 to 18 months have been really hard on everyone,” said Tucker afterward. “It’s hard to put that feeling into words, so we made a record.” Tucker then sang “Shadow Town” as a soulful downtempo rumination, colored by Brownstein’s drifting chords and Clark’s twinkling electric piano.

“Jumpers” began with a taut, restrained verse that erupted into a siren chorus in Tucker’s powerful upper range. Brownstein’s feral vocal intoned “you’re not the only one” as the song approached its crashing crescendo, painting the fevered portrait of a suicide jumper at San Francisco’s Golden Gate bridge.

Brownstein played a bluesy acid-rock lead and unleashed a flurry of windmills during “What’s Mine is Yours,” propelled by drummer Vincent LiRocchi’s pounding tom-tom rhythm. LiRocchi was also the linchpin for the skittering title track “Path of Wellness.” The song drew from the Afropop well that fueled Talking Heads’ Remain in Light. “You can never love me enough,” sang Brownstein and Tucker in a song about shedding the need for approval from others.

The descending riff introducing “Surface Envy” sparked immediate recognition from the audience. The song’s punk beat and slashing guitars pushed the spirit to ecstatic pitch. Brownstein and Tucker faced off at center stage with broad smiles. Brownstein bounced with energy and made high kicks. Afterward, she thanked the audience for making Chicago one of the band’s favorite cities to play, recalling earlier dates at Lounge Ax and Metro. “It’s a joy to play live music again,” said Brownstein. “We’ve missed the ability commune with all of you.”

“Modern Girl” began with an intimate vocal and minimal adornment. The crowd sang and waved hands to the chorus “my whole life was like a picture of a sunny day.” Brownstein thanked everyone for lending their voices. Tucker’s soulful “Bring Mercy” kept spirits high. The song spoke to healing the tensions behind the civil unrest and clashes between neighbors in 2020. “Pack your bags with things to lift you up,” she sang.

The clattering “Worry With You” spoke of love and trusted companionship, and the value of having a partner to make mistakes with while improvising one’s way through life. “Let’s get lost, baby, and take a wrong turn,” sang Brownstein and Tucker.

The band brought a special guest onto the stage for the jagged and angular “One Beat,” as Brownstein’s creative partner and close friend Fred Armisen joined on tambourine. Sleater-Kinney concluded with a blast of righteous fury with “Entertain,” with spine-tingling guitar from Fabi Renya. The song was a final reminder of the combined power of Brownstein and Tucker, with Brownstein’s indignant verses sent soaring by Tucker’s keening singalong chorus. “Whose side are you on?,” the pair sang at an invisible adversary. Clearly, the early crowd at Pritzker Pavilion was stacked with allies standing with Sleater-Kinney.

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Category: Featured, IE Photo Gallery, Live Reviews, Stage Buzz

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