Concert review: Wilco and Nick Lowe explore the full range of their songs at the Peabody Opera House, Tuesday, October 4
The Peabody Opera House opened its doors just this past weekend. The renovated theatre is fashioned much like a traditional opera house with its ornate décor and marble floors throughout. One might expect the ballet or the latest production run of “Phantom” or “West Side Story” to have commenced the venue’s fall season. Instead, we got something much better: Wilco.
In this hyper-information age, with the instantaneous variety of the iTunes store downloads and Netflix instant streams, attention spans are short and options are more than plentiful. iPod playlists are more favorable than listening to the latest album releases in their entirety. But having experienced the engaging two-hour set that Wilco delivered Tuesday evening, you caught just a glimpse into the huge catalog of material that this band has amassed.
The show began with a solo performance by producer, songwriter and recording artist Nick Lowe. Lowe is most well-known for hit “Cruel to Be Kind,” as well as having written the popular Elvis Costello song “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding.” Lowe played these two tracks last night, as well as a cover of Costello’s “Alison.” It was a very well-received set as the audience seemed familiar with Lowe’s music. Lowe reminds you a bit of Leonard Cohen at times with his straight-forward delivery and his narrative lyrics. It really was a pleasure to see Lowe open; so often opening artists feel more like a drag than a bonus for eager showgoers.
After a brief intermission, WIlco came out just after 8:40 p.m. and hardly stopped playing until 11 p.m.. Jeff Tweedy & Co. took the stage to an indigo lighting that made everything really shimmer with an icy appearance. The crowd, who sold out this show in 25 minutes when tickets went on sale, stood up to greet the band with rousing applause and remained standing throughout most of the show.
The vibe in the Peabody felt cinematic. The house lights over the audience remained off for almost the entire evening, creating a blanket of complete blackness over the crowd. The movie-going type feel seemed appropriate for a singer-songwriter like Lowe but it was hard to imagine it working out well for a big rock band like Wilco.
Wilco still nailed it.
The spirit of the music really lead the evening someplace fun and moving as this band could play atop a polluted landfill and the crowd would still enjoy themselves. WIlco sounded great as the room at the Peabody is very quiet with nice acoustics; their sound system is definitely top-notch. The songs sounded much fuller and textured as the mix really let the sonic nuances come out. As much as a producing wizard can really fill out a band’s sound in the studio, Wilco has never sounded better than they do live.
The set list spanned the full range of their eight studio albums. A handful of new tracks were thrown in along with crowd favorites such as “Handshake Drugs,” “War on War,” “Shot in the Arm,” “Outtasite (outta mind)”, and, during the encore, an audience-pleasing “Casino Queen.” The band’s performance appeared effortless with a nonchalant delivery, everything clearly focusing around their front man and a lot of great guitar work by Nels Cline. As much as Wilco is a band that very much utilizes all six of their members to the fullest, it still very much feels like “The Jeff Tweedy Band” when you watch them play.
“We’ll come back if you let us come back,” said Tweedy to the audience. “We’re leaving here with a lot of songs left to play.” And wasn’t that the truth. It was a great set list, but for those really familiar with Wilco’s catalog, one noticed that dozens of great tracks were not played. The band has been so prolific with its songwriting that Wilco easily could have scheduled two or three consecutive sell-out dates to cover more of their material.
As long as Tweedy holds good on his word, we should see Wilco back soon.