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Old or new, it's Wilco

I last saw Wilco in concert in 1999, some half-dozen albums and members ago.

That Wilco was not the same Wilco that rose from the ashes of alt-country icons Uncle Tupelo in the early '90s, nor was it the same Wilco that became critical alt-rock darlings after 2001's landmark album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, nor was it the same Wilco that played the Straz Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa Monday night.

But the secret of Wilco's success — and the genius of frontman Jeff Tweedy — is that your history with the band matters not. No matter when you find them, you know who it is you're hearing.

Performing for an all-ages crowd of 1,960, Tweedy led the rollicking six-piece in a more than two-hour revue of the Chicago band's 18-year songbook.

You want feather-soft, gently rollicking folk? You got it. You want head-spinning, avant-garde alternative? You got that, too. And that was just in the first two songs: One Sunday Morning (Song for Jane Smiley's Boyfriend) and Art of Almost.

Both of those songs are from Wilco's latest album, The Whole Love, which paints a nice picture of Wilco circa 2012, with Tweedy still shape-shifting his way through each nook of the American rock 'n' roll canon, and making each influence his own.

The oft-tormented singer seemed in good spirits as he grinned and whistled his way through the bouncy Heavy Metal Drummer, from Yankee Hotel Foxtrot; and led the crowd in singalong to A Shot In The Arm, from 1999's Summerteeth.

And while most of Wilco's current lineup was not there for Summerteeth, it's been a keeper for a while now.

In guitarist Nels Cline, Tweedy has found a showier sideman who can breathe fire into his gentlest tunes (Impossible Germany), and rock a double-necked axe when it's called for (Dawned On Me).

Stylistically, the entire band can spin on a dime. The Steely Dannish Spiders (Kidsmoke) went from AM-gold to polished rock 'n' roll chrome, while War on War was a futurist take on classic rock, boiling to a cacophony of guitars and synthesizers. Elsewhere, the band shifted seamlessly from the classic soul of Jesus, Etc. to the classic power-pop of I'm Always In Love.

It is this malleability that has made them one of the great American rock bands — if you don't believe me, just ask the furriest clerk at your local record store. He'll tell you. At great length.

When Wilco filled its second encore with three songs from 1996's Being There: Misunderstood, Monday and Outtasite (Outta Mind) — it was a raucous atmosphere in Morsani Hall, and the songs still sounded as fresh as they did in the '90s.

Such is Wilco's gift: To breathe new life into everything old, and somehow make it all sound like nothing you've ever heard.

Old or new, it's Wilco 05/14/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 15, 2012 11:44am]
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