Wilco was so awesome in Wilmington on Friday that even the vegetables got up and danced.
OK, so it was just one vegetable: Mr. Celery, the salty Wilmington Blue Rocks mascot, who stalked Jeff Tweedy and crew onstage toward the end of the celebrated Chicago band's two-hour-plus show at Frawley Stadium, the sextet's only scheduled Philadelphia-area appearance on this tour.
It was a lovely evening for a doubleheader at a single-A minor-league baseball stadium, with Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band opening. (More on Oberst later.)
And coming on the heels of the release of Wilco (the album), the experimental Americana outfit's seventh studio album, it offered an opportunity to stand at second base - or sit on the third-base line - and take the measure of a restless and revered band.
With the exception of the murderous rampage "Bull Black Nova," which is a highlight of the new disc and was a standout Friday, Wilco (the album) finds the band at its most becalmed.
Tweedy the painkiller-addicted migraine sufferer who explored noise rock on the overpraised early '00s albums Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and A Ghost Is Born has given way to Tweedy the at-peace family man who was interviewed "about life, rock, and Pop-Tarts" by sons Sam and Spencer for the concert program.
And with the band lineup in place for two consecutive albums, a Wilco record since Tweedy and bassist John Stirratt left Uncle Tupelo in 1994, the results of that stability can be heard on the solid if unspectacular Wilco (the album) and in the live set.
In Friday's opener, "Wilco (the song)," a generous-spirited rocker, the raspy-voiced Tweedy volunteered his accomplished band as "a sonic shoulder to cry on," and promised the intergenerational crowd, "Wilco will love ya, baby."
That affection was expressed in a career-spanning set that reached back as far as 1994's underrated A.M. for the bittersweet "Box Full of Letters." But rather than a shoulder to cry on, Wilco's songs typically offered a chance to bond over shared anxieties.
Tweedy is not always the most articulate lyricist; I'm not quite sure what it means to be "cold as gasoline," as he sings on the new disc's "Solitaire." But his band, whose standout star is avant guitarist Nels Cline, is expert at expressing its leader's discomfort in songs such as "Muzzle of Bees."
Even a song that declares "I'm Always in Love" finds reason to worry. The only carefree tune after the opener was the closer, the deliriously happy "Hoodoo Voodoo," whose lyrics were not written by Tweedy but by Woody Guthrie.
Cline was impressive all night, whether shredding violently on the extended "Spiders (Kidsmoke)" or the more lyrical "Impossible Germany." His guitar, though, could have been louder. So, for that matter, could have been the whole band, which also comprises drummer Glenn Kotche, multi-instrumentalist Pat Sansone, and superb keyboard player Mikael Jorgensen. It was as if the volume had to be kept down to keep from offending motorists speeding by on I-95.