Wilco Treats The State to a Gem

Upon mention of the name Wilco, for some, the term “Dad Rock” immediately comes to mind. This term has become ubiquitous over the past year and a half; used to describe music that appeals to an older generation that resembles music from an earlier era. It was originally used as a put-down in a 2007 Pitchfork review of the band’s Sky Blue Sky album.

While Wilco’s music can sometimes echo the Super Sounds of the 70s, witnessing the band live reveals  a band that is out to rock you regardless of your age. If your only exposure to Wilco is from its studio releases, you’re missing half the experience. Wilco is a band that begs to be seen live to fully appreciate its talent.

Jim Houle Wilco State Theatre Ithaca, NY 9-23-15-2

Whomever decided it was a good idea to preserve the old theaters throughout Upstate New York, despite all of the urban renewal efforts of the 70s and 80s, deserves a huge pat on the back. Upstate has a plethora of gorgeous old theaters perfect for hosting shows such as this — from the Palace Theatre in Albany to the Stanley in Utica, the Capitol in Rome, the Landmark in Syracuse to this gorgeously renovated old theater in Downtown Ithaca — beautiful venues are bountiful in this area of the state.

The assemblage at the sold out State Theater in Ithaca on Sept. 23 was treated to four shows in one. Nashville native William Tyler opened with a brief, but impressive, four song set of solo acoustic and electric songs. Tyler, throughout his set, made no secret of his extreme appreciation in having the opportunity of opening for Wilco.

While he was seated for the majority of his set, Tyler quickly had the audience standing and appreciating his slick guitar style on songs reminiscent of old school country, Delta Blues and Clapton. Tyler’s appreciation for the city and venue was apparent when he stood to show off the Grateful Dead t-shirt his sister had bought him pre-show. He also made mention of the Dead’s legendary Barton Hall show at Cornell in introducing his new duds to great applause.  This talented man put on an impressive set and if he doesn’t become a household name in the near future, it will be a surprise.


Wilco took the stage promptly at 9:00 p.m. and ran through their latest release Star Warsan album sprung upon an unsuspecting fan base as a free download this summer, in its entirety. It was a fairly straight forward run-through of the album and was politely received by the audience, if not yet entirely familiar to them.

The “third” part of the show finally brought the crowd to its feet, as Wilco dropped the A Ghost is Born track “Handshake Drugs” featuring the classic melancholy line “I was chewing gum for something to do…” This is where the headliner truly took the stage and had the fans hooked.

Jeff Tweedy
Jeff Tweedy

A distorted run-through of “Camera” moved smoothly into the techno-beat intro of “The Art of Almost” from 2011’s The Whole Love. It was at this point that the audience was truly all-in on this show. Seat numbers no longer held any meaning as people began to make their way from the back of the cozy theater to stand at the front of the stage to witness the Wilco madness. Tweedy recognized those who made the move while playfully scolding the front row ticket holders for not jumping at the opportunity sooner.

Fan favorite (then again, almost all are), “Via Chicago” didn’t disappoint as the acoustic turned cacophonous with drummer Glenn Kotche and guitarist Nels Cline’s break out mid-song creating a frenzy of sound and light behind a seemingly oblivious Tweedy maintaining the soothing tone of the lyrics.

Wilco recently re-released a special vinyl version of its debut album A.M. and has been dipping into some of those songs on this tour. This show was no different, with the appearance of “Box Full of Letters,” the Pat Sansone-helmed “It’s Just That Simple” and the subdued, yet still rocking, version of “Casino Queen,” which was done acoustically during the second of two encore sets.

When attending a Wilco show, the true show is in witnessing Cline. Equal parts shredder, jazz aficionado and honky tonk slide guitarist, he leaves it all on the stage every night. It isn’t uncommon to see the remains of what used to be perfectly fine guitar strings dangling from Cline’s head-stock at the end of a particularly nasty “Impossible Germany.” And while his strings remained largely in tact on this night, Clines, commanded the attention of the State Theatre crowd, drawing roaring ovations throughout the show.

Nels Cline
Nels Cline

Following a well-received “Impossible Germany,” Tweedy had some words with a few ambitious amateur photographers at the front of the stage; imploring them to enjoy the show in front of them rather than through the screen of their smart phone.  After offering an apology for his dislike of the cameras, he joked about the bands new favorite place to play…Montreal (where they had played previous to Ithaca) to laughter from the crowd. The twenty-five song set concluded with another A Ghost is Born track, “The Late Greats.”

After a brief break, the band came out to a scorching ten minute version of “Spiders (Kidsmoke)” that had the crowd dancing along and Tweedy performing a “kitty cat dance” with “paws” in a defensive posture.

Another break had the stage crew assembling an array of acoustic instruments for the finale of this four-part show. Sansone switched over to banjo, Clines to slide guitar and pianist Mikael Jorgensen downsized to a melodica.

“Misunderstood,” the Woody Guthrie-penned “California Stars” and “Shot in the Arm” all engaged the audience in a sing-along. The close stage set-up made for an intimate small room feel for the remainder of the show, all that was missing was the campfire.

Jim Houle Wilco State Theatre Ithaca, NY 9-23-15-47

After twenty years and several line-up changes, Wilco is a band that still enjoys doing what it does. To see fire in the eyes of Jeff Tweedy and smoke from Nels Cline’s fret board after all these years,  is truly a joy to behold.  A joy that will continue  into the new year with a fresh slate of eastern U.S. tour dates beginning in Pittsburgh on Jan. 25. This brief tour will make a few New York stops, including a two-night stand at the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester and two sold out shows at Brooklyn’s Kings Theatre.  Go for the music, stay for the show.


September 23, 2015
Ithaca, NY | State Theatre of Ithaca

01 – More…
02 – Random Name Generator
03 – The Joke Explained
04 – You Satellite
05 – Taste the Ceiling
06 – Pickled Ginger
07 – Where Do I Begin
08 – Cold Slope
09 – King of You
10 – Magnetized
11 – Handshake Drugs
12 – Camera
13 – Art of Almost
14 – Via Chicago
15 – Box Full of Letters
16 – Hummingbird
17 – Forget the Flowers
18 – Red Eyed and Blue
19 – I Got You (At the End of the Century)
20 – Heavy Metal Drummer
21 – I’m the Man Who Loves You
22 – Dawned On Me
23 – Jesus, Etc.
24 – Impossible Germany
25 – The Late Greats
26 – Spiders (Kidsmoke)
27 – Misunderstood
28 – War On War
29 – It’s Just That Simple
30 – Casino Queen
31 – California Stars
32 – A Shot in the Arm

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