At one point during Wilco’s rousing set at Pomona’s recently renovated Fox Theater, Jeff Tweedy stepped away from the mic and cupped his ear to elicit the crowd to take a verse during Yankee Hotel Foxtrot favorite “Jesus Etc.” It was not the only instance of a massive crowd singalong during the band’s one-and-half-hour set. If any alt-country-leaning band could ever be legitimately described as “arena-ready,” Wilco certainly made a case for itself on Saturday evening.
Walking on stage to the ubiquitous theme to “The Price is Right,” perhaps as an ironic nod to the grandeur afforded to a band that trades mostly in earnest songcraft, the six-piece got the show underway by tearing into “Wilco (The Song),” the opening track of their latest record. The band interspersed selections from Wilco (The Album) between a variety of songs from their vast catalog, a wise move presumably designed to keep audience members not familiar with the only recently-released material engaged throughout the entire set. Crowd pleasers such as “I’m the Man Who Loves You,” “You Are My Face,” and “Can’t Stand It” kept the energized crowd ecstatically swaying about. “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart” sounded more anthemic than anyone could possibly imagine from simply listening to the recording, as the crowd’s singing nearly drowned out Tweedy’s passionate yelp. A Ghost is Born standout “Spiders (Kidsmoke)” was performed during the first encore, showcasing the sextet’s musical virtuosity and penchant for spacey yet urgent psych-jams.
The band was in very fine shape instrumentally, as each musician on stage made crucial contributions to the unified sonic assault. Despite the numerous lineup changes throughout their history, they somehow manage to retain the spirit of the older material while integrating new musical personalities into their sound. Wilco’s muscular guitar attack was led by lanky David Lynch doppelganger Nels Cline, who alternately churned out sweet, melodic leads and wrenching, feedback-laden drones from his full rack of guitars. Drummer Glenn Kotche hammered out precise syncopations and steady rock beats augmented by bassist John Stirratt’s bouncy low end accents. Keyboardist Mikael Jorgensen and multi-instrumentalist Pat Sansone (whose birthday was marked by a crowd singalong of “Happy Birthday,” naturally) anchored the textural aspects and vocal harmonies of the performance. Jeff Tweedy’s vocals were pitch perfect, and his stage presence and effortless charm easily commanded the attention of the crowd. With its fiery rockers and heartfelt ballads, Wilco proved themselves a genuinely versatile outfit whose roars were just as poignant as their whispers.