After a steady 15 months of going at it -- including three very memorable Minnesota shows in that time -- Wilco played the last official date of its tour behind "The Whole Love" on Saturday in a setting made for winter-savvy Minnesotans.
"It's a good thing this isn't a Morrissey concert, because then it would be over by now," frontman Jeff Tweedy joked an hour into his band's frigid, snowy outdoor finale at the base of Vail Ski Resort in Colorado. Another of his quips earlier in the fluttery set didn't fare so well, though: "I wish somebody would turn off the snow machine," he said to loud boos. Skiiers had been salivating for the first big snowfall like the one that finally came Saturday.
Also the finale of Vail's three-day Snow Daze festival -- the Shins, Michael Franti and Divine Fits played previous nights -- the white-washed gig recalled Wilco's warmly received show in Duluth's Bayfront Park the week after Labor Day 2007. Yep, that's the one where the weather unexpectedly turned to sleet, fog and a deep chill. At least this time the crowd was ready for the wintry mix. Another of Tweedy's witty asides: "I've never seen so many stocking caps in one crowd. You look like a field of beautiful, fuzzy flowers."
Beautiful and fuzzy is an apt description of Wilco's live shows since 2007, in which time its albums have been deeply stacked with a wide range of stage-worthy songs, and its once-fluid lineup solidified and remains unchanged. Saturday's performance celebrated this high-water half-decade mark. The set list was heavy on songs from that year's underrated album "Sky Blue Sky," as well as the latest songs. Yet it was conspicuously light on earlier material -- only one tune apiece was played off the band's first three albums (or four, counting "Mermaid Avenue").
At tour's end, many of the tracks off "The Whole Love" stood out as some of the biggest crowd pleasers of the night, including "I Might," "Dawned on Me," the title track and especially the set's second song, "Art of Almost," with its spastic climax. One of the most pleasant surprises of this tour has been the anti-spastic, melancholy acoustic redux of the previously chaotic "Spiders (Kidsmoke)," which rang out magically once again. That left "Impossible Germany" -- off "Sky Blue Sky" -- as the night's pinnacle guitar jam. One of the last two guys to join the current Wilco lineup, guitarist Nels Cline wowed the jam-band-loving Coloradoans with his nimble work despite the constant threat of numbness in his fingers.
The show's one bit of pre-'06 sentimentality came midway through the set during "California Stars," which Tweedy renamed "Colorado Stars." You probably had to be there in the frozen, mountain-wrapped moment to not find the renamed reworking hokey. Anybody who caught any of Wilco's shows anywhere on this tour, though, will probably agree the band can't get to work on the next go-round soon enough.