By Tyler Asay
On stage or in the studio, Wilco’s brilliance shines through. With the recent addition of a number of studio and compilation albums from Wilco’s vast catalog, this week we’re taking a deep dive and comparing their produced cuts to live tracks from our exclusive Front Of House Series, and the Roadcase Series. After digging in below, stream all the shows and albums in our app to hear how the band transforms each song into a unique live experience.
A.M. (1995) x Liberty Lunch, Austin TX (Nov 5, 1996)
The very beginning. From the ashes of Uncle Tupelo comes the band’s first record, A.M., released on March 28, 1995. Many long standing country-rock standards from the album have remained in the band’s set for their entire career like “Box Full Of Letters” and “Casino Queen.” To best understand where the band the band was at during this critical phase, we’ve paired this album with the earliest Wilco show on our platform at Liberty Lunch in Austin, Texas on November 5th 1996. This show included a number of songs from A.M., some Uncle Tupelo classics like “The Long Cut” and “New Madrid”, and a taste of what’s to come next with songs from Being There, including “I Got You (At The End Of The Century)” and “The Lonely 1”.
Being There (1996) x Promenade Park, Toledo OH (Sep 6, 1998)
Wilco’s second album, Being There, was a big swing for a sophomore record. Not only was it a double album sold as a single (which began the band’s disputes with Reprise Records), it was also the beginning of Jeff Tweedy and Co’s tearing apart from the genre of alt-country and adding in more experimental influences. Their show at Promenade Park in Toledo, Ohio on September 6th, 1998 includes several Being There tracks, highlighted by a massive “Kingpin,” alongside songs from their Woody Guthrie project with Billy Bragg, Mermaid Avenue. Main set ends with a cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song.” Hell yeah.
Summerteeth (1999) x Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London UK (Mar 27, 1999)
Before embarking on a proper tour in support of the release of Summerteeth (a tour that would last for most of 1999), Wilco played a few “showcase” shows, including this one at Shepherd’s Bush Empire in London on March 27, 1999. With Jay Bennett spending more time behind the keyboards, and the continued use of Leroy Bach as an additional sideman, the band was able to reproduce the lush sounds heard on the album, which was released three weeks prior. This show is peppered with several songs from Mermaid Avenue too, including “Christ For President” and “Hesitating Beauty,” as well as Uncle Tupelo’s “New Madrid”. The original studio album and the Super Deluxe version of Summerteeth are available to stream, the later of which which includes multiple demos and alternate versions including “Summer Teeth (Slow Rhodes Version)” and “Pieholden Suite (Alternate),” and outtakes from the Summerteeth sessions, as well as lost tracks like “No Hurry” and “Viking Dan”. It also includes a previously unreleased live show that took place November 1st, 1999 at the Boulder Theatre in Colorado. The audio was sourced from an uncirculated soundboard recording.
Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002) x Orpheum Theater, Madison WI (Jul 31, 2002)
A turning point for the band, with both Jay Bennet leaving the band and a bobbled release from Reprise to Nonesuch. However, that didn’t stop Wilco from releasing their defining achievement and one of the greatest American-rock records of all time: Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Their show from the Orpheum Theater in Madison, Wisconsin on July 31st, 2002 takes place only three months after the physical release of the album. Hearing live versions of the heavily orchestrated cuts from Yankee such as “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart” and “Reservations” are both beautiful and insightful, and hearing the band reinterpret their older material in this new style is illuminating. We have to shout out “Laminated Cat” as well, one of our favorite jammy Wilco songs (Well, Loose Fur technically).
A Ghost Is Born (2004) x Madison Square Garden, New York NY (Dec 31, 2004)
Wilco rang in 2004 with New Year’s Eve at Madison Square Garden in New York City, a year that saw the release of their fifth album, A Ghost Is Born. Whatever personal struggles Tweedy had been going through at this time that are illustrated on Ghost, they can barely be heard during this show: the band is in high spirits and covers of “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” by Blue Oyster Cult, “Living After Midnight” by Judas Priest and “I Shall Be Released” by Bob Dylan are fired up. Maybe that had something to do with the recent addition of guitarist Nels Cline. When the clock strikes midnight, the band leads the Garden in a rendition of “Auld Lang Syne” into wishing drummer Glenn Kotche a happy birthday.
Kicking Television: Live In Chicago (May 4-7, 2005)
Kicking Television was Wilco’s first and only official live album to this date, recorded over the course of four nights at Chicago’s Vic Theater. We’re not going to compare live vs live on this one, but being a new addition to nugs it’s worthy to call out as this release had come at a time where Wilco’s live line-up had solidified to what it still is today: Jeff Tweedy, John Stirratt, Glenn Kotche, Nels Cline, Pat Sansone, and Mikael Jorgensen. The tracklisting runs the gamut of their whole career to that point, with Mermaid Avenue songs to fan-favorites and setlist standards like “Jesus, Etc.” and “Handshake Drugs.” The show closed with “Monday,” featuring a full horn section to end it with a bang.
Sky Blue Sky (2007) x Count Basie Theatre, Red Bank NJ (Jun 22, 2007)
2007 begins Wilco phase two with the release of Sky Blue Sky, a soaring musical adventure that showed the band leaning into its live chops and guitar pyrotechnics (See “Impossible Germany”). Their show at the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank, New Jersey on June 22nd, 2007 opens with the gorgeous “Side With The Seeds” and includes some fun extended cuts like “Hate It Here” and “War On War.” “Walken” is a highlight as well, with its mutating strut and buoyant rhythms. The main set ends with a version of Uncle Tupelo’s “Acuff-Rose”.
Wilco (The Album) (2009) x Royal Oak Theatre, Royal Oak MI (Jul 21, 2009)
Wilco love you, baby. On their 2009 album, Wilco (The Album), the band gets self-referential and settles into their position of one of the great American bands. But settling doesn’t mean you forget how to cook. This show from the Royal Oak Theatre on July 21st, 2009 in Royal Oak, MI, the band is in full force, ripping through Wilco songs like “Sonny Feeling” and “One Wing.” Delightful songwriting is the main driver here, proving how underrated Wilco (The Album) is. This show also includes rare performances of “A Magazine Called Sunset” and “Summer Teeth”.
What’s Your 20? Essential Tracks 1994 – 2014 (2014) x Kaserne Basel, Basel, SWI (Nov 7, 2011)
In 2014, Wilco released their first ever greatest hits album, What’s Your 20? Essential Tracks 1994 – 2014, which included songs from the beginning of their career up to their most recently released album, 2011’s The Whole Love. Whole Love includes some of Wilco’s catchiest tunes like “Dawned on Me” and “I Might,” which kick off this show at Kaserne Basel in Switzerland on November 7th, 2011. Several other “greatest hits” are performed at this show, including a blazing “I’m The Man Who Loves You” and a lovely “Via Chicago. The “Born Alone” from this show is massive.
Alpha Mike Foxtrot: Rare Tracks 1994 – 2014 (2014) x Largo at the Coronet, Los Angeles CA (Dec 16, 2013)
We’re mixing it up here. In 2014 Wilco released a huge collection of rarities in the form of Alpha Mike Foxtrot: Rare Tracks 1994 – 2014. The show picked here in comparison is a solo Jeff Tweedy performance from Largo at the Coronet in Los Angeles on December 16th, 2013. Tweedy performs several deep cuts including “Cars Can’t Escape” and “One True Vine.” Uncle Tupelo songs including “Black Eye” and “The Long Cut” make an appearance, so this set truly spans Tweedy’s catalog.
Ode to Joy (2019) x Chicago Theater, Chicago IL (Dec 19, 2019)
Ode to Joy is the eleventh studio album by Wilco, released in October of 2019. This show from the Chicago Theater on December 19th, 2019 takes place during a multi-night run and features several songs from Ode To Joy such as “One And A Half Stars” and “Love Is Everywhere (Beware)” as well as “Random Name Generator” from 2015’s Star Wars. The encore is an amazing triple punch: “California Stars” (featuring James Elkington) into “Spiders (Kidsmoke)” into a cover of John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” featuring Sharon Van Etten.
Exclusive to nugs.net, the Front of House Series explores Wilco’s live catalog past and present. Start a 7-day free streaming trial to listen to these exclusive concert releases, the Roadcase Series, and their studio counterparts. Explore Wilco’s live and studio catalog on nugs.net.