Wilco’s show at Portland, Oregon’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall last night — one of the first dates on their Tundra Tour of chilly locales — presented fans with a small dilemma that frontman Jeff Tweedy was happy to see resolved: “You guys worked out that sitting/standing thing. Good. We should never have to intervene.” Standing was only appropriate — the show demonstrated that Wilco aren’t the alt-rock darlings they once were, or the angsty kraut-rock-experimental-screech they became. This is Wilco (the well-oiled rock machine).
After a tribal, atmospheric set of whispery, stripped songs by openers Califone, Wilco opened quietly, opting for “Sunken Treasure” followed by the equally understated “Remember the Mountain Bed.” But they soon dug into “Bull Black Nova,” one of the loudest tunes on 2009’s Wilco (The Album), and Tweedy demonstrated that he’s back to the thwack-whacking, guitar-shaking lead playing he’d largely abandoned in the years since they added lead guitarist Nels Cline.
Wilco’s stage included glowing cylinders forming a line behind the band, and also scattered stage right and stage left. In addition, the band used audience-aimed lights to great effect a few times, particularly during perennial favorite “A Shot in the Arm.” When encouraging the crowd to sing “Jesus, Etc.” without his assistance, Tweedy goaded Portland to do better than Missoula, Montana (the location of their previous show). “[And] do it better than Denmark! You should at least be able to beat a crowd that learned English as a second language.”
Tweedy also played around with some extra falsetto vocals in “Hate it Here,” changed the lyrics of “Kingpin” to “Livin’ in/….Oregon,” and invited Portland locals Scott McCaughey and Peter Buck, both of R.E.M. and the Minus Five, onstage for an obligatory supergroup moment on “California Stars.” After rocking through nearly 20 songs from their own catalog, Wilco began their encore with a glance back at one of their influences, revisiting the stellar cover of the Neil Young-penned “Broken Arrow,” they performed a week ago at the MusiCares gala honoring Young in Los Angeles.
“Remember the Mountain Bed”
“Hell is Chrome”
“Bull Black Nova”
“You are My Face”
“I Am Trying to Break Your Heart”
“A Shot in the Arm”
“Side With the Seeds”
“At Least That’s What You Said”
“Far, Far Away”
“Hate it Here”
“I’m the Man Who Loves You”
“Broken Arrow” (Buffalo Springfield cover)
“California Stars” (feat. Scott McCaughey and Peter Buck)
“Heavy Metal Drummer”
“I’m a Wheel”