Wilco long ago proved it could rock, but on more recent albums Jeff Tweedy has tended toward precision over abandon and subtle shadings over pounding power chords.
The band put both sides of its personality on display in a crowd-pleasing, sold-out homecoming concert at the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park Wednesday night. The early going featured songs from the band's new "Sky Blue Blue" and acknowledged masterpiece "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot," but it ended with an extended encore drawing on the hard-rocking likes of "Casino Queen."
"This is perfect," Tweedy said between songs early in the show, and while he was referring to the setting and the weather, many Wilco fans extended that sentiment to the music as well.
Tweedy was suitably scruffy, lead guitarist Nels Cline affected nerdy chic in red floody pants, Pat Sansone looked like a refugee from the Faces in his vest and shag hairdo, and bassist John Stirrat rocked his bass to the microphone to sing backup. As ever, drummer Glenn Kotche was the antithesis of Charlie Watts' effortless ease, pushing the calmest songs along in a feverish sweat.
Keyboardist Mikael Jorgensen made it a sextet. The band fleshes out the more obtuse reaches of Tweedy's songwriting, and the performance brought some warmth to the sometimes chilly feel of "Sky Blue Sky." On "Handshake Drugs," Cline soloed off Sansone's power chords, and on the new "Impossible Germany" the two were joined by Tweedy to form an interlacing guitar figure, Tweedy and Sansone face to face as Cline jammed off to the side.
If there was a flaw, it was that the band is perhaps too devoted to the apparent perfection it achieves in the studio. Yet if the 26-song, two-hour-plus set never took off, it didn't disappoint either. Wilco's fans seemed to like hearing the songs as they are, and the picturesque setting, under the latticework above the lawn, and the early fall weather were indeed perfect, even if the concession stands and other facilities weren't quite equipped to handle the crowd.
Dr. Dog opened with a well-received half-hour set. A Tweedy fave, it was a perfectly chosen opening act in that it was similar to Wilco in its wealth of influences, if not quite there in the passion of the vocals. Profits benefited the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, one more attempt at achieving perfection.