By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star
In front of a sold-out, rapturous crowd Saturday night, Wilco closed out the inaugural concert season at Crossroads KC at Grinder’s with a perfect performance from a band at the peak of its powers.
Wilco performed as many songs – four – from its first album, “A.M.,” released back in 1995, as its current one, “Sky Blue Sky.” Those albums are different creatures, but the transition was seamless. While the crescendo and subtlety of “Hate It Here” stood in sharp contrast to the straightforward rock of “Box Full of Letters,” the juxtaposition of each song actually made them reinforce each other.
Wilco’s compulsion to explore the dark corners of its songs brought an energy and freshness to the performance. Show opener “Via Chicago” was a perfect balance of power and nuance and noise and melody. The song started quietly, but a cacophony erupted during the chorus when each band member blasted away independently on his instrument before suddenly rejoining the ensemble for the verse.
Nearly two hours after taking the stage the sextet re-emerged for a second encore, which featured the nonstop haymaker punches of “Red-Eyed and Blue,” “I Got You,” “Casino Queen” and “Outtasite (Outta Mind).” Already excited, the audience was whipped into a joyous frenzy that found many bouncing up and down involuntarily.
If the audience was delirious, the band was having as much fun. Jeff Tweedy broke into a hambone dance during “Hummingbird,” bass player John Stirratt frequently jumped around the stage, and Pat Sansone struck a Pete Townshend pose with a couple windmill strums on his guitar during “Outtasite.” Even the sound guys were bobbing their heads.
The show also demonstrated why in just one summer Crossroads KC has become the city’s best outdoor music venue. The capacity grounds were crowded, but not uncomfortable. The promoters probably could have packed another 100 people inside.
Thanks to loads of fresh mulch laid down by the grounds crew, the turf was firm and dry despite a hard rain that began before dawn and lasted until noon. In an age of skyrocketing ticket prices Crossroads KC has hosted several of the summer’s best performers at prices that don’t require a second mortgage or even a second thought.
The evening ended with a ferocious delivery of “Spiders (Kidsmoke),” which culminated in a fireworks display and a gentle jab from Tweedy at the opening act at the Sprint Center, just a few blocks north: “Take that, Elton John.”
Set list: Via Chicago/Company on my Back/You Are My Face/I Am Trying To Break Your Heart/Pot Kettle Black/Handshake Drugs/Side With the Seeds/A Shot in the Arm/She’s A Jar/Impossible Germany/Pick Up the Change/Box Full of Letters/Jesus, etc./Too Far Apart/Walken/I’m the Man Who Loves You/Encore 1: Hummingbird/Hesitating Beauty/Hate It Here/Heavy Metal Drummer/Encore 2: Red-Eyed and Blue/I Got You (At the End of the Century)/Casino Queen/Outtasite (Outta Mind)/Spiders (Kidsmoke)