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It’s hard to imagine a band like Wilco playing the role of opener, but that’s what Jeff Tweedy and company are doing for Neil Young on this current tour. (Tweedy on opening for Young: “It’s a little embarrassing to be up there playing songs that sound a lot like… Neil Young songs.”) However, last night in Baltimore—the closest they are coming to D.C. this time around—they had the stage to themselves, and took advantage of the opportunity to play their trademark hours-long, two-encore show, complete with tons of old material and only something like three songs from latest album Sky Blue Sky.

The lack of new material was fine with me, because with only one exception I find the songs on that album pretty banal. For me, Wilco is all about the skillful combination of gorgeous songwriting and all-out noise-fuckery, which made the addition of guitarist Nels Cline several years ago a true stroke of genius. While this combination just doesn’t shine through in the band’s latest album, it still comes out full force in their live show. (And, I’m pretty sure they tour with a Mellotron – who does that anymore?)

 

The set list was great, with the highlight for me being “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart,” in which the noisy outro segued smoothly into a blistering rendition of “Spiders (Kidsmoke).” Nice to hear them still playing their more out-there material. I think these two were then followed by the unrelentingly melodic “Hummingbird,” in which Cline makes his guitar, and many people in the audience, weep.

I should take this opportunity to say that anyone who likes Cline’s contributions to Wilco should check out some of his much more obscure work as a bandleader and improviser, like Draw Breath or The Giant Pin from his Nels Cline Singers trio or either of his collaborations with Andrea Parkins and Tom Rainey (Ash and Tabula and Downpour). Avant-garde jazz/free improv that’s worlds away from Wilco, but Cline is one of the best in the business at this kind of thing.

 

The Lyric Opera House is a nice venue, like a slightly smaller DAR Constitution Hall with an atmosphere more akin to the Strathmore, and was completely sold out. A few more photos from the evening are at Flickr.