“Fearsome” is perhaps the best, and possibly only, word to describe Wilco’s performance at Tanglewood Tuesday night.
For nearly 21⁄2 hours and two encores, the group whipped the massive, near-capacity crowd into a voracious frenzy, pounding through song after song with nary a breather in between. And the audience responded in kind by singing, dancing and clapping through nearly every number.
Taking the stage in matching sparkled sport coats and, in frontman Jeff Tweedy’s case, a dashing bowler hat, the members of Wilco kicked things off with strong showings on “Either Way” and “Hummingbird.” The band focused almost exclusively on material from its latter four albums, and though some might have been disappointed with the small showing from 1996’s double CD masterpiece “Being There,” in the end, nobody could really gripe about the show.
The high points were too many to mention, but gold stars go out to lead guitarist Nels Cline, whose devastating soloing on cuts such as “Impossible Germany” and “What Light” stole the spotlight early on. He also had the group’s strongest stage presence, grimacing with each note wrenched from his guitar and flailing about the stage during his solos.
But he wasn’t the only star of the evening. Tweedy’s vocals took on a more even-keeled sheen than on past recordings; his is a voice that seems to be improving with age, as his impassioned singing on “Pieholden Suite” and “Handshake Drugs” proved.
Perhaps best of all was “Spiders (Kidsmoke)” from 2004’s “A Ghost is Born,” which segued from the previous song, “Poor Places,” and built into an unstoppable juggernaut to finish out the main set. The dynamics fluctuated from a simple groove to a massive, rocking breakdown. Eventually all that powered the music was the audience’s clapping hands, as Tweedy proclaimed that the song belonged to the audience.
However, even the softer, more pensive moments held the audience captive, as evidenced by the aforementioned “Pieholden Suite” and “You Are My Face.”
Andrew Bird opened up for Wilco with plenty of whistling and unconventional violin playing, both of which he is known for. He fared best on the songs he performed solo on his violin, including an unplugged “Some of These Days,” which closed out the set with a traditional-sounding blues number with not-so-traditional lyrics.
For most of the set, however, Bird was accompanied by a competent, if unspectacular, backing band consisting of the traditional guitar-bass-drums lineup. With band in tow, Bird meandered through his slabs of slightly overwrought, orchestral indie rock, including set highlights “Opposite Day” and the poppy “Tables and Chairs.”
While Bird was obviously eager to show off his multi-instrumental talents, all the instrument switching — from guitar to violin to glockenspiel — got tiresome after a while. His whistling, often done in time with glockenspiel playing, got to be a bit much after the first few numbers, and his onstage loop machine began to get a bit cluttered toward the end of most of the songs.