- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 28, 2008

Wilco arrived in the District on the heels of an epic stint at Chicago’s Riviera Theater in which it played all its recorded material over the course of a five-day residency. With its entire catalog rehearsed and battle-tested, the band had no trouble burning its way through an exhilarating, overheated and occasionally eventful 29-song set at the 9:30 Club that lasted nearly two hours.

Frontman Jeff Tweedy was animated in his exchanges with Tuesday night’s sold-out audience. The group is taking requests for its shows over its Web site, and Mr. Tweedy expressed astonishment at which songs are garnering the most votes from fans. He was no less astonished when a fan handed him a replica of the Grammy statuette as a nod to the band’s ill-fated nomination for last year’s “Sky Blue Sky.” He even went so far as to ask the audience about the sound, and when one fan complained he couldn’t hear guitarist Pat Sansone, Mr. Tweedy obligingly turned up his amplifier, before asking, “Does anyone else haveany petty requests?”

For those fans who came to Wilco through the hit “Sky Blue Sky,” the show must have been a bit of a revelation. A new band member, lead guitarist Nels Cline, is on his first Wilco tour. Recently named to Rolling Stone’s list of Top 20 New Guitar Gods, Mr. Cline is a thinking man’s shredder in the mold of Tom Verlaine or Robert Fripp. His playing on the relatively sedate “Sky Blue Sky” was technically excellent, but, like the rest of the album, was at once hokey and needlessly extravagant. The songs from the album, however, have been retooled for the road. Also, on “Impossible Germany” and other tracks, Mr. Cline was shredding like a man possessed — taking extended solos that ignited the crowd as much or more than Mr. Tweedy’s vocals.

As if to compensate for his reckless flights, Mr. Cline twice switched instruments for the song following a lengthy solo, once picking up a banjo and, in another instance, a lap steel guitar.

It was also interesting to keep an eye on drummer Glenn Kotche between songs. While the lights were down, he was busy adjusting his drum kit — putting a ring of bells on his high-hat or digging around for a percussive accessory to augment his playing. His drums were amplified through a pair of unusually large microphones that looked as if they hearkened from the early days of radio. On the first track, the rootsy “(Was I) In Your Dreams,” every soft shimmer of brushed symbol could be heard distinctly to the back of the hall.

With the gear onstage rigged to accentuate a softer sound, it appeared that a low-key evening was in the offing. Not so much, it turned out. Instead, Wilco reimagined whispery songs like “Pot Kettle Black” from 2002’s “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” and the downbeat pop of “A Shot in the Arm” (from 1999’s “Summerteeth”) as explosive rock anthems. The band was joined on several songs by a three-piece horn section, most effectively on “Blood of the Lamb” from its collaboration with Billy Bragg, which included a klezmer-influenced clarinet solo.

Wilco didn’t offer anything from its 1995 debut album ,”A.M.,” and just two numbers from 2004’s “A Ghost Is Born” but dug deeply into both “Being There” and “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” as well as “Sky Blue Sky.” They’re also playing songs from “Summerteeth” for the first time in a while, and Mr. Tweedy advised the crowd to go out and buy it so they could sing along.

Judging from the response of the audience, most of them already had.

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