Wilco brings eclectic alternative sound to Avondale


CW / Augustus Barnette

Alternative rock band Wilco performs a song during their set at the Avondale Brewing Company.

Augustus Barnette , Staff Reporter

On Saturday, April 22, alternative rock band Wilco descended upon Avondale Brewing Company to spread their music to the city of Birmingham.  

Based out of Chicago, Wilco formed in 1994 following the split of prior band Uncle Tupelo. Initially continuing Uncle Tupelo’s country-influenced sound, Wilco has since run the gamut of musical influences. From straightforward country music in their 2022 release “Cruel Country,” to the softer sound of 2019’s “Being There,” Wilco is not a band to follow normal conventions or stay confined to one lane.  

These practices of bending rules follow the band outside of genre and into the industry. Several of their albums have been released or streamed on their website for free, most notably 2001’s “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” following disputes with the band’s former label, Reprise.  

“Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” happens to be the band’s most famous record, making it to No. 13 on the Billboard 200 and certified Gold status. It also broke the top five for Pitchfork’s “Top 200 Albums of the 2000s” and the Rolling Stone’s “100 Best Albums of the 2000s.”  

The A’s, formed by longtime friends Amelia Meath of Sylvan Esso and Alexandra Sauser-Monnig of Daughter of Swords, led off the night with a performance. The A’s led the crowd into Wilco’s set by delivering a self-described “bizarre-o ghost orchestra of strange noises” as well as an acoustic folk sound.  

After The A’s set the scene, Wilco took over, opening with the first two tracks off “Cruel Country” before adventuring into their broader discography, playing songs from 10 of their 12 studio albums, and one off a collaboration album.  

Wilco performed for a wide range of people, from full families to older couples, and the enjoyment was certainly noticeable. Whether during a long guitar solo like in “Impossible Germany” or a slower song like “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart,” the crowd was singing along, dancing or responding to frontman Jeff Tweedy’s calls for audience participation.  

James Farley, a fan from Nashville, made the trip down to Birmingham to see Wilco for the second time.  

“Musically, every member of the band is elite at their instrument. The drummer is incredible, and Nels Cline, the lead guitar player, is amazing. Jeff Tweedy, the lead singer and primary songwriter, is incredible,” Farley said. “I’ve kind of grown up on a lot of the old alt-country bands, and they kind of came out of that, so just seeing the progression over the years and how consistent they’ve been is just amazing.”  

As for recommendations for new fans, Farley recommends listening to “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” or “Sky Blue Sky,” and shared his love for the song “Impossible Germany.”  

Scott Hurst, who travelled from Daphne, Alabama, with three of his children, shared his history with the band as well and what he expected from the evening.  

“I expected exactly what I got out of it, which was a connection to Jeff and the band, and I really enjoyed it. I felt like what I wanted out of it was to hear a lot of songs that I really enjoyed and meant a lot to me, and I did that, so there’s nothing about tonight that I would change. I got everything I looked forward to,” said Hurst.  

Hurst also shared how he views the band and what he likes so much about Wilco.  

“They’re easy to connect to. I would say just the way that they connect with their fans is the biggest plus for me. They’re a very fan-friendly and down to earth band that has traditional American roots. A little country, a lot of rock and roll,” Hurst said. “They’re very underrated as musicians, they have one of the best guitarists in their band that you could ever see live in Nels Cline. Glenn Kotche is a world-class percussionist, so I think if you’re interested in great musicianship, that’s the band to go see.” 

As for a more casual fan, Chuck Chandler, a former journalist from outside of Birmingham, has seen Wilco a handful of times but prefers the rock side of Wilco over their country sound.  

“I haven’t heard the new album. The guy that was coming with me, he sold his ticket because he saw Jeff Tweedy said that it might be an all-country concert, and he was like ‘I’m out,’” Chandler said. “You know, I did not buy that album beforehand, but I hope it won’t be all country, because I might be out too.” 

Chandler, a self-proclaimed record collector, said he has country among his 6,000 records. However, he prefers when rock bands play rock, hinting at his prior comments about Wilco’s newest album.  

In terms of what he does like about Wilco, it’s their uniqueness. 

“I just enjoy their music all around. It’s different, they’ve got kind of their own niche,” Chandler said. “You know, they don’t really need to be compared to anybody else. As soon as heard them I thought it was a cool sound.”  

.Toward the end of the concert, Tweedy said the band had become familiar with Birmingham. According to setlist.fm, Wilco has played in the city around ten times.  

“Never far from a pork place, there’s no place like Birmingham,” Tweedy said. 

As the four-song encore crept to a close, the band played “California Stars,” a song originally written by Woody Guthrie but performed for the first time on Wilco’s 1998 collaboration with artist Billy Bragg, “Mermaid Avenue.” 

In honor of either pork barbecue or the people of Birmingham, Tweedy changed the song’s lyrics to reference Alabama instead, further perpetuating the enjoyment of the smiling fans as the night closed out.