Wilco shares its wonder at the IMU


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Wilco will love you, baby.

So goes one line in Wilco’s opening track “Wilco (The Song)” off its latest album, Wilco.

In its 15-year career, the band has been called a lot of things: alternative country, experimental folk, indie rock. It has had more cast-changes than a daytime sitcom. It’s difficult for anyone — band members included — to define their identity. But one thing is definite: This is Wilco, and this is their song.

The song continues, with lead singer Jeff Tweedy singing to listeners as though he’s comforting an old friend: “Are times getting tough? Are the roads you travel rough? Have you had enough of the old? Tired of being exposed to the cold?”

For some, he is an old friend. A friend devoted fans have stuck with through seven albums, four Grammy nominations (and two wins), and five different band-member switch-ups.

And at 7:30 p.m. today in the IMU Main Lounge, Tweedy will play for his old pals in Iowa City.

Tonight’s show will be the band’s first U.S. performance since the group’s summer tour in Europe.

Since the newest CD release, Wilco has explored new territory by playing smaller venues.

It may seem an interesting choice that Wilco play its first Stateside show in Iowa City and not in the members’ hometown of Chicago. But Wilco has plenty of reasons to come here.

“I’ve always liked Iowa City quite a lot,” bassist John Stirratt said. “We’ve been coming there for 15 years to play and it always seems like sort of an oasis, like certain college towns are.”

Three things come to mind when he thinks of Iowa City, he said: good coffee, interesting people, and Gabe’s, now called the Picador.

“We’re pretty lucky because we have a relationship with Wilco,” said SCOPE general manager T.C. Lockhart. “It served as a spring board for bringing [the band] back again.”

Tonight’s show will be the first IMU show of the year. New Zealand singer/songwriter Liam Finn will open.

Wilco last played Iowa City two years ago while on tour for its 2007 Grammy-nominated album Sky Blue Sky. The band played not one but two energy-charged encores.

“It was the longest encore I have ever seen,” said UI senior and longtime fan Jessi Hatton. A Chicago native, Hatton also saw Wilco play at the Bonnaroo Music Festival in 2007. “The crowd was psyched, and the band was, too. The energy was awesome.”

SCOPE director of production Jon Hackbarth said he will remember the 2007 show.

“It was pretty crazy to see such an avid following for this band,” he said. “People came from all over, and it was the first show of the year like that.”

If you devote yourself to Wilco, the members will devote themselves to you. At tonight’s show, Stirratt said, expect a symbiotic vibe between band and crowd.

“We don’t always play long encores,” he said. “We know when the crowd doesn’t want us.”

But for some it’s hard to imagine who wouldn’t want Wilco. Hackbarth, who interned at concert-production company Live Nation in Chicago this past summer, said the entire Live Nation office played the newest Wilco CD for two-straight weeks. Lockhart said it’s safe to say most of SCOPE’s 52-member team are also big Wilco fans.

Currently, Wilco comprises Glenn Kotche, Mikael Jorgensen, Nels Cline, Pat Sansone, Tweedy, and Stirratt.

“Now, going on five years, we haven’t had a lineup be together for this long, and we have a lot at our disposal in terms of the players,” Stirratt said. “We’re always creating, even when we’re playing the same songs.”

With Tweedy, Stirratt is the only member who has been with Wilco since the beginning. He is proud of every Wilco incarnation thus far and believes the best record is still in front of them. That said, he admits the present is certainly a high point.

“It’s a journey that people have been interested in because of the disparity of the records,” Stirratt said. “I think it’s really been a vision quest.” He paused. “You should insert laughs at the vision-quest part, so people think it’s a joke.”

Wilco will finally make its way back to Chicago on Oct. 18 and 19, when it will play sold-out shows. A veteran of the hometown sold-out shows, the highly professional Stirratt isn’t sweating it, but no show is without its glitches.

“We have struggled at times in seated theater settings,” he said, “because, you know, you get those heavy-breather, big-ticket spenders right in your face.”

In Iowa City, he has nothing to worry about. In fact, he thinks most of the fans are college-educated, love general-admission shows, and prefer unique venues, such as churches and ballrooms.

Tonight, the Wilco members will love you, baby, and you may just love them, too.

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