There’s no better way to wrap up taping a new season of Austin City Limits than to do it with old friends. In that spirit, Wilco took the stage for the first time at ACL Live at The Moody Theater and fourth time overall with a two-hour, 22-song set that ranged far and wide across their 17-year career. Dubbed by the Austin Chronicle’s Austin Powell “an amazing evening,” the edited show will broadcast on Feb. 4, 2012. You can see some great photos from Brooklyn Vegan here and a nice wrap-up from the Austinist here.
Naturally, the set list concentrated on the Chicago band’s latest LP The Whole Love – nine of that album’s twelve songs were included. Opening with the quiet, mellow “One Sunday Morning” (the new record’s closing track, oddly enough), the band also graced the Moody with sharp pop rockers “I Might,” “Born Alone” and “Dawned On Me,” as well as the country waltz “Open Mind,” the noisy anthem “Art of Almost” and the deceptively frothy pop tune “Capitol City,” which bandleader Jeff Tweedy introduced thusly: “This is for you, Austin. This is one of the most divisive songs in the Wilco repertoire. Enjoy.” Divisive? How? It’s a great tune.
But the band didn’t just highlight the latest record – they also peppered the set with gems plucked from nearly every LP in their back catalog. From the tension-filled rocker “Bull Black Nova,” the concise tribute “The Late Greats” and the psychedelic ballad “Radio Cure” to the lovely folk song “Far Far Away,” the no-frills rocker “Shouldn’t Be Ashamed” (from their debut album A.M.) and their quintessential song “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart,” Wilco touched on nearly every era of its existence, leaving out only cuts from Summerteeth and its Billy Bragg/Woody Guthrie collaborations.
“This is a song, if you’ve ever seen Wilco play, you’ve seen us play this song. And yet, it never made it on television,” remarked Tweedy before launching into the fan fave “Jesus, Etc.’ At the song’s conclusion, a fan called out “Well done!” much to Tweedy’s amusement. “Impossible Germany” featured a jaw-dropping solo from guitarist Nels Cline, performed on the late Duane Allman’s Les Paul Goldtop. “He’s only the 82nd greatest guitar player of all time,” Tweedy proudly informed the adoring crowd, referring to his abashed bandmate’s showing in Rolling Stone’s recent list of 100 Greatest Guitarists. “Nels Cline just gave maybe the greatest guitar solo in ACL history,” claimed @timbasham on Twitter.
The band ended its long set with the much-beloved “Heavy Metal Drummer,” one of its warmest, funniest, catchiest and most touching tunes. But the evening wasn’t quite over yet. Wilco closed out the night by inviting tour opener Nick Lowe – “our hero” – to front a smashing cover of Lowe’s hit “Cruel to Be Kind,” conjuring the spirit of the original recording for an absolute treat. “Dear @Wilco: You blew my mind tonight. Sincerely, me,” commented @nakia on Twitter.” For real… a two hour #acltv taping with Nick Lowe!?!?” Andrew Pacetti wrote on Facebook, “Awesome show…first rock show for my 3yo son…can’t think of any better way to introduce him to live music in Austin.” Jenny Hurta Douglas put it more succinctly: “That. Was. Awesome.”
It remains to be seen what will make it into the televised episode – we don’t envy the band, the editors or Terry Lickona having to whittle these excellent performances down to an hour’s worth. But it’ll be an amazing hour, as you’ll discover when the show broadcasts on February 4th next year – check with your local PBS station for the exact showtime. “Wilco..and Austin City Limits..does it get any better than that?” commented Toby Holcomb on Facebook. No, it doesn’t.