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Thursday, April 16, 2009

Wilco @ The Pabst Theater

April 15, 2009

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"We're putting down roots here in Milwaukee," Jeff Tweedy announced Wednesday, after a three-night stint here that found his band Wilco throwing the first pitch at a Brewers game, playing a pair of heavily hyped, sold-out concerts and hosting a photo shoot potentially for the cover of their next album. If Chicago should ever issue a warrant for his arrest, Tweedy could probably move to Milwaukee without fearing extradition, so thoroughly had he charmed the city by the end of his half-week stay.

Tweedy's changed a lot in the past decade, transforming from a surly, painkiller-addicted visionary into an archetype less common-and certainly less romanticized-in American music: the rocking dad. The "dad rock" designation began to emerge with 2004's A Ghost Is Born, when Tweedy introduced boldly unfashionable washes of '70s soft-rock into his splintered Americana, but the tag also suits his newly easygoing demeanor. Not only is he literally a dad—the proud parent of a son who sometimes drums with him at his solo shows—but he now handles the crowd like one, gently joking and jiving with them like kids before bedtime. This Tweedy wants to be loved and revered, and panders to the audience even when he already has them eating out of his hand. Several times during Wednesday's set he waved a Brewers cap in the air like an American flag, feeding off the effortless cheers.

Overlap aside, Wednesday's set eschewed several of Tuesday's crowd-pleasers like "Pot Kettle Black" and "Heavy Metal Drummer," replacing for instance the Mermaid Avenue jaunt "California Stars" with its tear-jerker counterpart, "Remember the Mountain Bed." Not a bad trade, really, especially since in the hands of a six-piece, triple-guitar lineup, even the softest songs land with a bang. The set built to a pair of hard-driving encores that drew generously from A.M. and Being There scorchers like "Misunderstood."

That song has long been an encore staple, but eight years ago it was delivered like a kiss-off directed at the crowd, especially its piercing conclusion: "I'd like to thank you all for nothing!/ Nothing!/ Nothing!" This time, though, you could have easily mistaken Tweedy for singing "I'd like to thank you all for coming."

Photo by CJ Foeckler