Review: Wilco, Nick Lowe at the Murat 

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Wilco, Nick Lowe
Sept. 13, Murat Theatre at Old National Centre
4 stars

It’s official: Wilco has become the kind of band that middle-aged people take their teenage kids to see.

But Tuesday night at the Murat Theatre, the Chicago-based sextet proved — on the first show of the tour, no less — that it can still rock a house and unleash plenty of cathartic noise along with its melodic songcraft. The multi-generational, near-capacity crowd responded by rising to its feet as the band took the stage and never sitting down, except for some slackers in the balcony.

The main set opened with two tunes from forthcoming album The Whole Love — the Radiohead-like epic “Art of Almost” and the catchy new single “I Might” — followed by the classic “Misunderstood,” the lone entry from 1995’s Being There.

Noting that this was the first-ever live performance of “Almost,” bandleader Jeff Tweedy later offered a mock apology.

“It’s going to be so much better in a week,” he said. “I’m sorry.”

Truth be told, the show came off remarkably glitch-free. Tweedy, alternating between acoustic and electric guitar, seemed happy and relaxed. Longtime bassist John Stirratt sang dependable harmonies, and other band members took occasional moments in the spotlight without exceeding their designated roles. Lead guitarist Nels Cline was the exotic bird on stage, shifting with ease from dizzying jazz-fusion runs to razor-sharp bursts of distortion and feedback on a museum’s worth of collectible guitars.

The simple stage design featured long ropes of torn and knotted white fabric that dangled from the ceiling in ghostly fashion, catching the colored lights and also glowing from within like holiday luminaria. The well-paced setlist drew evenly from band’s past five albums.

A 90-minute main set closed with a two-fer from 1999’s Summerteeth, “I’m Always in Love” and “A Shot in the Arm.” After a mercifully brief three-minute break, the band returned for a five-song encore, wrapping up with “I’m the Man Who Loves You.”

Opening the evening, British roots-pop icon Nick Lowe drew a deservedly warm response, even beyond the two songs most listeners recognized: 1980 hit “Cruel to Be Kind” and “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding,” better known in its Elvis Costello rendition.

For 40 minutes, Lowe stood in the spotlight with his big Gibson acoustic guitar and his richly seasoned voice and presented a master class in top-notch songwriting, sampling his long career of combining the emotional immediacy of classic country music with the sophistication of early 20th-century pop. He is touring in support of The Old Magic, his first album in more than four years.

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