Wilco may be based in Chicago, but their St. Louis appearances always feel like a homecoming for both fans and undoubtedly for founder/leader Jeff Tweedy, who grew up in nearby Belleville, Ill. and earned his chops playing St. Louis clubs with Uncle Tupelo while working in area record stores. It was therefore no surprise that their Monday night appearance at The Pageant sold out as quickly as tickets went on sale. 

This show was somewhat bittersweet for Tweedy, who noted early in the set, "This is the first time I've played a St. Louis show without my dad here in 20 years," referencing the recent passing of his father and biggest fan, Bob Tweedy. If anything, Tweedy channeled his emotions into a powerhouse two-plus-hour set that would have made the elder Tweedy proud. 

Though they opened the show with "Cry All Day," a subtle tune from their most recent album, Schmilco, the majority of the evening highlighted classics from some of the band's most iconic earlier albums with a few newer songs thrown into the mix. Wilco pulled out an early-in-the-set heavy hitter with the sublime "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart," a favorite of die-hard fans with Mikael Jorgensen's piano punctuating the crescendo.  

Trippy "Art of Almost" was accented with heavy strobe lights and gave guitar virtuoso Nels Cline the first opportunity to work his array of pedal effects in a dizzying solo while drummer Glenn Kotche pounded a tribal beat. Just off stage right, mammoth cases housed an impressive collection of guitars for Tweedy, Cline and Pat Sansone, which technicians swapped out after nearly every song. 

The show had more highlights than lowlights, another early treat being a sweet acoustic version of "Misunderstood" with Cline on lap steel guitar, the crowd chanting along to the repeated "nothing" at the end.  John Stirratt's familiar bass line on popular "Handshake Drugs" gave way to Cline's signature piercing shred, melting into controlled chaos at the song's end.

Wilco offered a couple of older sentimental favorites mid-set with "Via Chicago" and "Reservations," featuring Tweedy on acoustic guitar. The melancholy melody of stunning "Impossible Germany" morphed into yet another astounding display of guitar acrobatics by Cline, his entire body convulsing as his fingers flew rapidly across the fretboard.

Uncle Tupelo fans were treated to a pair of Tweedy-penned classics, "New Madrid" and "We've Been Had," the later featuring Cline on lap steel. Sandwiched between them, opener James Elkington (a British folk artist whose own set was quite gloomy), joined the band to lend his guitar to "California Stars," culminating in a delightful jam between him, Tweedy and Cline.  

Wilco completed the main set with a run of upbeat hits, starting with two from the seminal 2002 album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. "Heavy Metal Drummer" (which Tweedy noted as "another song about here") got the crowd on its feet before segueing into anthem "I'm the Man Who Loves You," Kotche standing on his stool with his drum sticks held high in the air just before the signature opening riffs. They followed with two songs from A Ghost is Born -- Beatles-esque "Hummingbird" and "The Late Greats," finishing to a standing ovation and deafening cheers. 

Wilco being known for their lengthy encores, most fans stayed put, well aware that some of the best was yet to come. The band didn't disappoint, providing not just one, but two encores comprised of five total songs, starting with the more recent "Random Name Generator." 

More classic fan favorites followed, including "Jesus, Etc.," which Tweedy introduced by saying "This song doesn't sound that good when people don't sing along, so I'm gonna need your help." The audience obliged, accompanying him for the entire tune. Sprawling "Spiders (Kidsmoke)" with its rapid-fire bass and drums built slowly to a climax marked by a carnival of keys by Jorgensen and Tweedy taking his turn shredding the guitar alongside Cline.

Wilco went back to its early roots for the second encore, starting with another local ode, "Casino Queen" (always a given at a St. Louis show), followed by "Outtasite (Outta Mind)," the entire crowd on its feet again before the band took its final bows. 

More than two decades and several lineups after its founding, Wilco is a stable and well-oiled machine, continuously exploring and pushing musical boundaries both onstage and in the studio, and proving themselves as one of the most consistently excellent live acts touring today. One thing is certainly clear: Wilco loves St. Louis and St. Louis loves Wilco. 

Click below to see all of Joanna Kleine's photos of the evening.

Wilco at the Pageant, November 13, 2017

 

The chants of "Primus sucks!" were audible from the crowds gathered on the stairs in front of the Peabody Opera House on a Sunday night. With a certain amount of arrogance, the crowds loudly touted their resume of shows they've attended, t-shirts they've collected and the depth of their discographies of various formats. Everybody wanted to prove their worth as a dedicated fan and most could boast well beyond twenty years of pious support for the celebrated trio. In the lobby, the lines at the bars were dwarfed by the mob that swarmed the merchandise table as patrons eagerly grabbed at the newest shirts and posters for their collection. While it may not have been the first Primus concert for many, the anticipation shook the room as the crowds slowly filled the seats.

The lights faded and the band entered the stage almost unseen to a recorded selection from Primus and the Chocolate Factory. Front man and bassist Les Claypool started the show with repetitive eighth notes that left even the dedicated fans guessing which song would lead off the set. As the song developed, it was soon apparent that the show would start with the same selection as their studio discography, "To Defy the Laws of Tradition" from the 1990 release Frizzle Fry. The early releases highlighted the early set, including two more selections from the same album and including an excursion into "Sgt. Baker," from the trio's second release Sailing the Seas of Cheese

After starting with some of the early favorites, Primus took a leap from their roots to the more recent era with "HOINFODAMAN," from 2011's Green Naugahyde, the first album released after the band took more than a decade hiatus from creating new music. It was a only a brief excursion however as they returned to the '90s for the entirety of the remaining set, dabbling with tracks from all five of their earliest releases, with only a short jaunt into "Candyman" from their relatively recent theme album, Primus & the Chocolate Factory with the Fungi Ensemble. While the middle of the set ventured more into the experimental and psychedelic selections, they brought the energy back to a peak with one of their most popular songs of all time, "My Name is Mud," from the 1993 release "Pork Soda" for the set finale, leaving the crowd in an uproar as they rather abruptly dropped the curtain and left the stage.

The intermission was far from short, giving the crowds ample time to take care of any needs, purchase more merchandise, and sadly, lose some of the fervor that the previous set had built. The stage production of the first set blended both simplicity and technology, leaving the stage largely barren with five LED panels and a few basic lights at the rear of the stage. The panels offered video displays, each catered to the song they accompanied and featured footage from the music videos when possible. With the lighting also dominant at the rear, the band largely appeared as shadows and silhouettes, favoring the the production and music over any direct attention on the musicians.

The rising curtain at the start of the second set revealed a significantly more developed stage, highlighted by an enormous woodlands backdrop with a fantasy style. The LED panels that once seemed opaque suddenly became translucent, offering a clear view of the background scene whenever not illuminated. Across the stage, the various mic stands, instrument racks and other structures were lined with leaves and vines, adding depth to the décor and absorbing the band into the visual composition. Once simple lighting now incorporated smoke and lasers, all set-up to encapsulate the experience of the second set.

While the first set featured fan favorites and other hand-picked selections, the second set had a much more deliberate and cohesive intent. At the end of September, the band released The Desaturating Seven, a theme album based on Italian author's Ul de Rico's The Rainbow Goblins, inspired not only by the children's book's story but by the artwork that was the base of much of the stage production. Claypool and company presented the new album in it's sequential entirety, joined by videos of animated goblins and other characters dancing across the translucent panels. The album carried a distinctive style, far more passive and psychedelic than their earlier works. It was a substantial change of energy, but certainly an artistic journey for both eyes and ears. 

The set closed to a standing ovation from a crowd that was both appreciative and eager for more, leading into a lengthy encore that combined the sounds of old with the fuller stage production of the second set. Dipping into the relatively unpopular Brown Album for the second time, the encore opened with "Fisticuffs," a playful narrative that was well backed with old, bare-knuckle footage. It was followed with one of the most successful singles, "Wynona's Big Brown Beaver," accompanied by an arrangement from the official video in the background. The final selection was a fan favorite, "Southbound Pachyderm," with the extra treat of blending into the only song of the night that was never released on a Primus album, "La Villa Strangiato," a 1978 favorite from Rush, the progressive rock trio that Claypool has regularly credited as an immense influence on the group.

The performances largely favored reproducing the studio releases without many solos, jams or other excursions that allowed the musicians to demonstrate the depth of their talent, but that was certainly not a necessity for Les Claypool, Ler LaLonde and the return of the popular drummer Tim "Herb" Alexander, who have long endeared themselves to the dedicated fans that filled the venue. With a focus on the old as well as a demonstration of the new, the show celebrated the energy, creativity and artistic insanity that makes Primus the band they've been for decades.

Set 1: To Defy the Laws of Tradition (Frizzle Fry); Pudding Time (Frizzle Fry) ? Sgt. Baker (Sailing the Seas of Cheese); Too Many Puppies (Frizzle Fry); HOINFODAMAN (Green Naugahyde); Golden Boy (The Brown Album); American Life (Sailing the Seas of Cheese); Candy Man (Primus & the Chocolate Factory with the Fungi Ensemble); Nature Boy (Pork Soda); Welcome to This World (Pork Soda) ? Mrs. Blaileen (Tales From the Punchbowl); My Name is Mud (Pork Soda)

Set 2: The Desaturating Seven played in full

Encore: Fisticuffs (The Brown Album); Wynona's Big Brown Beaver (Tales From the Punchbowl); Southbound Pachyderm (Pork Soda) ? La Villa Strangiato (Rush cover from Hemispheres)

 

It is simultaneously surreal and exciting to witness greatness -- and not greatness that has ardently sought their space in the limelight, but greatness that the light gravitates toward regardless. Such is the experience of watching Abigail Washburn and Béla Fleck serenade the evening with their banjos. Undoubtedly the King and Queen of the banjo, as they have been called before, they don't seek after their crowns, though it is clear the weight leaves them unbowed.

The Sheldon Concert Hall in Grand Center was past capacity to see the couple. Ushers and last minute fans stood at the back of the auditorium scanning in vain for a seat. Then the room darkened and the banjo royalty approached the spotlight. Their thrones were not but a set of soft chairs, a pair of microphones and six banjos. The couple each had a banjo strapped to them as they entered. Washburn began with a quick lilting solo played in her traditional claw-hammer style. After a few measures she closed her eyes, inched toward the mic and began to sing. Then Fleck began quick harmonies which broke into a response melody. The duo did not split into rhythm and lead as many would, but played alternate melodies, complementary and speaking to one another reminiscent of Bach's adagios. But this would be merely the first of an evening of Fleck displaying his classical background.

Their second piece strung together four different songs ranging from a dueling banjo-esque repartee to more traditional classical. All the while Washburn watches Fleck for signals to change melody, key, and movement. Their communication is as flawless as their finger-picking. Together they loop through crescendo and melody, in tune and in step. They even tap their feet in unison. Four songs in, Washburn switched to a fretless banjo which shortens the resonance of the already truncated banjo pluck. Fleck also changed his instrument to a cello banjo where the deeper bass could carry through Washburn's quick notes.

At first thought, an evening of exclusive banjos could seem beset with limitations and verge on redundancy. After all, the typical Venn diagram of those who seek after long banjo bluegrass tunes and those who play them are closer to a single orb than not. But with Fleck's virtuoso and Washburn's upfront charm and undeniable passion, this seems like an antiquated and absurd notion. One did not have to be schooled in banjo skill, bluegrass, old-time music, or classical to be washed fully in awe at their skill, comfort, and sound.

In the middle of the first set, Washburn, in her twin blonde braids, stands to show the crowd her new dress. It is a thin, dark blue, country maid dress. The style of which one could imagine on Mother Maybelle Carter, though Washburn's has finely wrought netting around her neck, midriff, and a frill at the hem. This becomes a metaphor for the evening. Washburn and Fleck bring old Appalachia into the present then lace it in the finesse of a wide musical education. Combining Fleck's awe-inspiring musicality with Washburn's haunting voice which jumps octaves like a yodeler and can hold a high-lonesome as well as Hank Williams Sr., the couple shows what is truly possible when the old world meets the new amidst comfortable twang of a host of banjos.

This frankness and sheer joy seen on stage does not leave them once they are finished for the night. Playing The Sheldon was also the release of their newest album, Echo in the Valley. Washburn describes the new record as their joint attempt to harness "the beautiful when you can see the goodness of the world." They look for the hidden good in things and create the opportunities for goodness around them, donating the proceeds from the sale of their album to the charity Kids for Cancer. They do this when they can, Fleck confides after the show. It's their way of giving back, he says. After all, he feels blessed to have a livelihood where he can travel with his partner and their son and make the music they love. Just as we are blessed to have them here in St. Louis, and in the world.

Bayou crooner Marc Broussard kicked off a tour in support of his recently released ninth studio album, Easy to Love, at Old Rock House last Thursday night to a full crowd. The Carencro, Louisiana native has developed a loyal fan base over the past 15 years for his extraordinary vocal abilities and his songwriting style, which blends a variety of influences from throwback soul and R&B to funk, blues and pop, with a nod to his Southern roots. 

Joined by his small but powerful backing band including guitarist Joe Stark, drummer Chad Gilmore and bassist DJ Raymond, Broussard treated fans to an hour-and-a-half set that spanned a good portion of his catalog, starting with the lovely "Leave a Light On," the first song from his new album, harmonizing sweetly with Stark and Raymond.

He featured only a few of the new album's songs in his set, including sultry "Anybody Out There," "Baton Rouge" and ballad "Easy to Love," which he noted was penned by Stark years ago, though only recently recorded. The rest of the show was a nice mix of some of his best originals and well-known covers. 

Highlights included the vintage soul-inspired "Lucky," which had a Stevie Wonder vibe anchored by Broussard's soaring vocals and Raymond's bass; "Home," which featured a stunning acapella intro with Broussard, Stark and Raymond once again in glorious harmony; and "Lonely Night in Georgia," a simply perfect tune from Broussard's second album that captures his voice at its soulful best.

Mid-set, Broussard and the band unleashed a funky trio that got the dance floor crowd moving, starting with groovy "Try Me," one of his early tunes, building into a scorching guitar solo by Stark. This led directly into a cover of The Meters' "Fire on the Bayou" before morphing into Al Green's "Love and Happiness," with Broussard pushing into his falsetto and getting the audience singing along to the chorus.

The rest of the band took brief break while Broussard remained on stage for a mini-acoustic set of some of his more emotional and vulnerable songs including "Another Night Alone" and "Let Me Leave." He then played a pair of very personal tunes about his two sons. Achingly beautiful "Gavin's Song," written for his oldest, had Broussard wiping away tears as he delivered the lyrics, "I wish we were together / I wish I was home / I wish there were nights / where I was never alone. / I know I've said it / but I'll say it once again / I wish I could be there / but I can't."

He followed this with the more playful "Gibby's Song," written for his younger son with "a smile so bright it lights up the night sky."

The band returned to deliver a few fan favorites from Broussard's acclaimed 2004 major label debut, Carencro, beginning with the up-tempo hit "Rocksteady." Raymond's funky bass lit up "Come Around," another Stevie Wonder-inspired number, teasing James Brown's "Sex Machine" and Parliament's "Mothership Connection (Star Child)" before moving into a cover of The Isley Brothers' "It's Your Thing," which got many a booty shaking on the dance floor.

They closed the main set with the fierce rhythm of "Home" as the crowd belted along, singing, "This Greyhound is Delta bound," before ending with a thunderous guitar jam, Broussard wailing at the top of his lungs.

After the final drum beat, Broussard laughed and remarked, "This is usually the part where we walk off stage to the dressing room and pretend we're not coming back for a minutes; but since there's no dressing room back here, we're just gonna play on through." 

The band treated fans to one last tune, Broussard's inspired cover of Solomon Burke classic "Cry to Me," before exiting out the side door into the night.

Broussard, as usual, did not disappoint, proving his consistently impressive vocals and the depth and soul of his songwriting. It's always a treat to see him in an intimate venue that allows him to connect with his audience on an emotional level as he does so well. 

Opener singer/songwriter Jamie Kent aptly warmed up the crowd with his hearty smile and twangy roots rock, as well as a delightfully funky cover of Britney Spears' "Hit Me Baby One More Time."

 

Imagine going to a friend's house for dinner and musical entertainment. When you pull up, you see people on the porch with drinks in hand. They greet you with smiles and return to their laughter. Inside, the main room has been filled with chairs and a line is beginning to form before the dining room, where the smells of dinner waft out slowly to draw you in. At the head of the line stands a robust and jocular host who greets everyone he recognizes with warmth and humor and everyone new first with curiosity, and then warmth and humor. The food is plentiful and delicious, and table service brings drinks and dessert as you sink into a repast of hometown comfort food. Then, after making a new friend or two, you wander back to the living room for an evening of music and enjoyment. Most of us have experienced something similar to this and can recollect it with fondness. Perhaps it is still talked about when you rejoin those friends who shared the moment with you. Years from now, you can all have a good laugh in the nostalgia of a night well spent. Now multiply your friend's dinner party of a dozen or so to well over 150. And that, my friends, is The Wildwood Springs Lodge in Steelville, Missouri.

The stage was set in a corner of the room between the bar and concierge desk, lit by clear, blue, honeycomb lights. The amps and a spare guitar bordered a worn area rug which really tied the room together, man. Everyone filled into the first rows of soft chairs; theater seats were set up behind those and lined the balcony above. Steve Earle came out in typical bad boy fashion: wordless. He plugged in his acoustic Martin M-38 with an embroidered sugar skull strap, hit the low E for a sense of sound and began strumming. He wore a black vest over a T-shirt, jeans that had seen much of the road across the US, and a stare that had seen ever farther.

After a few measures, he said, "I think it is important to sing this song as much as possible," and started into a gravel-toned sing-a-long of Woody Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land." After a brief pause where he almost smiled, he performed the next few songs without introduction, leaning one into the next with hardly a key change. His songwriting has always been strong, and he sang a few he was known for, dominating the 4/4 time with rambling quick narrative of outlaws and the hard killing floor blues of Southern Gothic imagery. Then stopped to breathe in the space of the venue.

It was then he opened up. Wildwood had billed the night as an intimate evening with Steve Earle, and, trained as I am in the musical lore of Nashville, I was eager to see a softer side of this late-outlaw who came to prominence with Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark. But soft is not what he offered. Neither did he remain in the hard-shell he had toured within during the '70s and '80s. Rather, he was honest. Not encumbered by the expectations of the Dukes, his usual backing band, Earle was free to tell stories and reminisce.

Halfway through the show, Earle switched to a mandolin he claimed to have won from a divorce and played, "Copperhead Road," which had been called for by the audience. The following number he picked back up his Martin and sang one for, "What's her name, wherever the hell she is." Departing from perspective rather than subject matter, Earle's later songwriting is a reminiscence about his days and ways of his younger self. The early songs are filled with tight riffs and hooks about chasing the devil. These later ones, "typical of a 52 year old," he claimed, center more on chasing the devil away.

Travis-picking through a typical I, V, VII progression in B, he spoke fondly of what it was like to learn from Townes, and how no one could ever match him. He then gave tribute to his late friend with a rendition of "Rex's Blues," which does not appear on the album of Van Zandt covers Earle released in 2009.

By the end of the night, Earle was joking with the audience, telling stories of his son and his many wives. Then after a brief encore and a break off-stage (which at The Wildwood is upstairs), Earle hung out at the bar to greet the lingering fans and take innumerable pictures. He was warm and friendly, offering anecdotes to any listening and would graciously engage whoever was near in ardent conversation.

While I have seen innumerable shows in my life, this was different than most. It was more intimate. There was little remove from the artist, and you felt included in both the music and the appreciation felt by everyone else. That is because of the Wildwood experience. In that space most describe as having a "living room feel," artists can leave their stage persona behind and relate their stories on a more personal level.  

Bob Bell, the warm fellow greeting everyone as they entered for dinner, runs the Lodge with his family who came of age just across the street. it was Bob's father, Paul Bell, who bought the former resort hotel built for Missouri's nouveau riche of yesteryear in hopes it would keep his family together there in Steelville. And his dream is a gift to us all. The Wildwood is not only a venue. It is an experience. The building is an L of old hotel rooms with metal, mortise, bit keys and no TVs. The hallways seem to come straight out of a Coen Brothers thriller, and porches wrap around both sides of the building. There are thirty-mile views off the back porch, which is lined with rocking chairs and retro decorations that have aged with the space. 

This reprieve from the bustle of daily life is a touch over an hour from St. Louis and yet a world away. The opulence of days of yore feels as Bob hopes it would, just like coming home. It is with this perspective he greets his guests as family and encourages them to enjoy the space as he has grown up doing. Here one can enjoy great food, better company, and a concert which enlivens as much as it connects one to the music. The Wildwood Springs Lodge creates a experience of togetherness. Together with family new and old, friends silver and gold, and a space to truly witness the skill and message troubadours like Steve Earle have been capturing in song for eons. It is like going back into a memory, only anew.  

And I, for one, can't wait to return.

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