While the Chainsmokers excited students in the Plex on Friday night, another band rocked out across town in Boston’s Orpheum Theatre. Flowery guitar riffs leading to explosive solo guitar jams by the band’s Nels Cline could be recognized as none other than Chicago’s Wilco.
The entrance of the ancient, tattered Orpheum Theatre was scattered with the typical Wilco-fan demographic: middle-aged men and women trying to harken back to their younger days. After a gentle pat-down at security, I immediately saw the wondrous, yet simultaneously decrepit, architecture of a theatre that opened more than 160 years ago, amid a country at war. Crumbling plaster and broken banisters set the stage perfectly, however, for the aging Wilco, and its now addiction-free lead singer, Jeff Tweedy. Neither the band nor the theatre symbolize perfection—instead, the two entities display self-conflict, trial, failure, and eventual success. Both the band, and the theatre, exist only for their efforts to fight through the toughest of times.
Regardless of the band’s age, Wilco’s energizing presence shone through. As per recent tradition, the band performed the entirety of its new album, Star Wars, to begin the concert. The brash guitar lines and funkadelic electronic effects of “EKG” lit up the Orpheum in an essence that would make you think that the band was in its earliest stages, attempting to rise through the ranks. “Random Name Generator,” the album’s most popular track, was played with the utmost excitement, and elicited a parallel energy from the crowd. Admittedly, because the newest album is not the band’s most popular, a good majority of the audience was surely confused for the first couple of songs played.
Once Wilco finished its playthrough of Star Wars, it shifted gears, playing its most popular and crowd-pleasing tracks, much of which came off of the critically-acclaimed Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. “Heavy Metal Drummer” rocked the theatre with presumably more stage presence than the venue has seen in recent memory. Before long, the crowd had forgotten the dazed confusion it experienced at the beginning of the concert, a feeling that now gave way to sheer, nirvanic pleasure. Unquestionably, the ubiquitous Wilco anthems, such as “Jesus Etc.” and “Shot in the Arm” were there and were performed to their full effect. Wilco, as a band that straddles the line between popular and underground, strives on such songs to stay afloat.
Most enjoyable were Wilco’s renditions of its perhaps less commercially popular, yet arguably more intricate tracks. “Misunderstood,” a relic of Wilco’s second album, Being There, struck the crowd not with the rock-energy present in Wilco’s hits, but instead amazed every sober-enough listener with the band’s famous coordination, not only between instrument and voice, but more importantly, between the different members of the band. Jeff Tweedy, often portrayed as the sole creator and livelihood of Wilco, is nothing without his incredibly talented crew of guitarists Nels Cline and Pat Sansone, bassist John Stirratt, and drummer Glenn Kotche. The combination of raw sounds and unique vocals that the band puts together makes a more incredible experience, one that would be hard to trade for a forgotten light-fest in the Plex.