Wilco @ Booth Amphitheatre 2019

Live Review: Wilco + Soccer Mommy @ Booth Amphitheatre – October 16th 2019

Wilco recently released their 11th album, Ode to Joy.  Recorded in their Chicago studios earlier this year, the album is a subtle contemplative journey through a lush and nuanced sonic landscape that has been garnering favorable reviews from fans and critics alike.  Despite having spent the last few months playing shows in Europe, Wilco have not toured North America since 2017… But the hiatus is over!  Buoyed by the new album, fans hoping to catch the band have been rewarded with a North American Fall tour that kicked off earlier this month in Toronto. We caught the show last week at Booth Amphitheatre in Cary NC.

Located next to a lake and surrounded by trees, Booth Amphitheatre provided an ideal serene location for the Wednesday night audience to experience Wilco showcasing their new songs from Ode to Joy.  The crowd was a bit slow to arrive, and as the evening wore on, the venue began to fill and the temperature began to drop.  By the time Wilco took the stage, it seemed that they had brought a touch of Chicago with them… It was one of the chilliest nights of the season, and the wind had picked up, accenting the cooler night air.  Dressed in a knit hat and denim jacket, Jeff Tweedy ambled to the front of the stage with a few waves and not much fanfare.  The band started off their set with “Bright Leaves” followed by “Before Us,” the slow burning opening two songs from Ode to Joy. Things started to pick up with the tumultuous bursts of noisy guitar and piano interspersed throughout “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart.”  From there, the massive 29 song set seemed to jump from strength to strength, mixing songs from across the vast Wilco catalog.  Some of the highlights included, “One and A Half Stars,” “Handshake Drugs,’ “White Wooden Cross,” “Via Chicago,” “Random Name Generator,” and too many more to name.  Certainly, a contender for crowd favorite, was an extended romp through “Impossible Germany” that featured an inspired fiery avalanche of a solo from Nels Cline that brought the crowd to its knees and ended with a drawn-out roar of approval and a literal “tip of the hat” from Jeff Tweedy.

The band were up to the challenge of the varied and lengthy setlist.  The years of playing and performing together were reflected in the silent understanding between bandmates.  Whether it was Nels Cline’s guitar work, Mikael Jorgensen and Pat Sansone’s keys and harmonies, or the driving low end provided by John Stirrat’s bass and Glenn Kotche’s drumming, everything fit just right into an effortless groove with each member instinctively knowing when to step forward or show restraint.  We are talking an E Street band-level of tightness here… Anchored by Jeff Tweedy’s low-key emotive vocals and deadpan humorous between song banter, including multiple references to the strong smell of popcorn wafting through the air, “Its like a full-blown popcorn assault.  You guys smell it, right?  Just wanna make sure I am not stroking out up here…” Wilco were a well-oiled sonic machine.

The main set ended on a cathartic and emotional high with “Misunderstood,” that had the crowd joining the band shouting out the “Nothing! Nothing! Nothing!’ refrain to end the song.  The appreciative but weary audience were rewarded with a 4 song encore that sent them off into the evening and the rest of the week on a soaring emotional high.  Wilco may not be flashy and overtly theatrical, but they remain a captivating and essential live act.

Opening the show fell to Soccer Mommy, the performance moniker of Nashville-based musician Sophie Allison.  Allison and her bandmates delivered a solid set of lo-fi chilled out indie-pop that caught the attention of the slowly building audience.  Its never easy playing to a crowd that is distracted and finding its way into the venue, but having toured with the likes of Paramore, Stephen Malkmus, Liz Phair, Phoebe Bridgers, and others, Soccer Mommy have the experience to handle it.  Their self-assured playing and confidence served them well and definitely caught the attention of the audience. 

Wilco + Soccer Mommy @ Booth Amphitheatre
Photos © Dan Kulpa // Clashdan Photography

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