April 20, 2022

Wilco played Yankee Hotel Foxtrot at United Palace (Night 4)

To celebrate twenty years of their absolutely iconic album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Wilco are playing the album from start to finish and the experience is a dream come true.

Album anniversaries can be strange thing to celebrate. They happen every decade as the record reaches a new milestone and sometimes, they even happen half way between. Some are given reissues, some have b-sides and demos that make it to a box set, and very often these days, a band will get together to play the record in full for their most adoring fans. Wilco has always been a band that sounded classic without dipping too much into nostalgia, furthering their sound with each record while always remaining fantastically Wilco. They've never been ones to really dwell on the past and on this time, in particular, due to the tensions that unfolded during the creation of the record. It's no secret that things were fraught and returning to this state of mind is surely taxing. However, not every album is as storied and lamented as an instantly acclaimed classic like Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and Wilco often put their fans before themselves. While the band originally released the album on their website for free downloads in September 2001 (nearly six years before Radiohead's name your price release of In Rainbows), the record wasn't actually available in physical formats until April of 2002 and thus, the band chose this as the week to give in to the urges and celebrate the record in all of its glory. As the lights dimmed, a spotlight appeared stage left and Jeff Tweedy came out to adjust the knob of a radio. Static slowly filled the room before a militarized voice repeated the phrase over and over: Yankee. Hotel. Foxtrot. Yankee. Hotel. Foxtrot. The curtain rose and revealed the band in place on stage backed by three horn players and a string quartet and as the static began to morph into the live music, it was clear that this was going to be a performance as prestigious as the album itself. In their albums leading up to the new millennium, Wilco had graduated to a new level of solid, bonafide American rock music. Three albums in and they were already a dependable act that struck a fantastic balance of swaggering alt-country and premium rock and roll. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot not only raised the bar, but it altered their entire trajectory as a band. The profoundness of it still never ceases to amaze me and like other all-time greats, new things are revealed with each listen and being able to have one of those listens be to the band replicating it live on stage isn't something I'll ever forget. While track-by-track album performances have become more and more common, there aren't many where the group will do their best to mimic the recording to such an extreme extent as Wilco is currently doing with this run of shows. There are no added solos, no extra flare, lick, or rimshot, no enforced vocal moments. This was truly the band bringing the record to life with extreme care and detail. Their attempt to recreate magic that only existed with the help of a studio. Jeff broke character once when he briefly spoke to the crowd to say "well you already know what's coming next" to much laughter from the crowd, but even the audience did little to interrupt the band's rhythm and pace and there were no extended cheers or callouts from the crowd. Everyone was in the moment together and each person seemed truly wowed with every hidden gem or sentimental sound that resonated so deeply coming across the stage. The backing track that transitioned "Ashes of American Flags" into "Heavy Metal Drummer" got the biggest reaction in terms of execution and being surrounded by people who've also spent countless times with the record to learn its every note made celebrating and cheering those moments that much more special. Musically, the production enhanced the band's sophisticated songwriting and pushed them from a good band, to legends in the making. However, beyond the music, it's also lyrically one of the most compelling and deeply personal records you're likely to find in anyone's collection. It's a record where every single song has a line or phrase that will surely get stuck in my head, ones that I think are some of the most profound lyrics on any album ever, striking words that conjure up such distinct and intense feelings. As the final notes of "Reservations" drifted over the crowd, everything slowly came to a silence and as the band raised their hands over their heads in victory, the crowd let out a stunning response of gratitude and appreciation. The band went on to play a song by the late Jay Bennett that was written during the sessions that produced the album as well as some other rare tracks. "These are the deepest cuts you're ever gonna get at a Wilco show" Tweedy exclaimed at one point and later saying "We sent that one to Warner Brothers and they just responded 'it keeps getting worse!'" In addition to the songs from the album's era, they through in classics "Hummingbird" and "Outtasite (Outta Mind)" as well to lengthen out the set. "We started the week with people saying we didn't do enough and we're ending the week with people saying we're doing too much. Always leave 'em wanting less!" Tweedy further proclaimed at the end of the night. "We made this record to be a better band than we were capable of being" he said as he thanked the crowd at length and praised everyone for their support as well as the additional musicians onstage who helped elevate the performance. For a band that consistently looks forward, being able to see them retreat to their past was something special. The soundtrack to so many wonderful memories brought fully to life.

Set list:

01 "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart"
02 "Kamera"
03 "Radio Cure"
04 "War on War"
05 "Jesus, Etc."
06 "Ashes of American Flags"
07 "Heavy Metal Drummer"
08 "I'm the Man Who Loves You"
09 "Pot Kettle Black"
10 "Poor Places"
11 "Reservations"
12 "Be Not So Fearful" [Bill Fay cover]
13 "Pieholden Suite"
14 "Cars Can't Escape"
15 "A Magazine Called Sunset"
16 Hummingbird"
17 "The Good Part"
18 "I Got You (At the End of the Century)"
19 "Outtasite (Outta Mind)"

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