November 21, 2004

Playing a show that was at times beautifully dreamy and at other times a cacophony of feedback, Wilco enhanced their reputation as one of rock's most innovative bands before a sold-out crowd at the Marquee Theatre Saturday night.

Frontman Jeff Tweedy greeted the crowd with a good-natured crack about Arizona being a “red state” and saying that Wilco was from a “blue state,” but that they “come in peace.”

He then strapped on a guitar and proceeded to lead the band through a set of songs based mostly on the group's last two critically acclaimed albums, “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” and “A Ghost Is Born.” Formerly a band that was lumped into the alt-country genre, Wilco has become exceedingly experimental with each new release, becoming a moody, atmospheric rock group.

“I'm happy — ecstatic!" said Craig Basham, an ASU graduate student in art, after the show. “I didn't know what the set list was going to be, but they played everything that I wanted. It was awesome!”

Performing in front of a movie screen showing, for the most part, surrealistic nature films, Tweedy and company drifted through some of the pretty acoustic material from their latest disc, such as the gorgeous “Muzzle of Bees” and the gentle “Hummingbird.”

Tweedy told the crowd that Wilco was supposed to play Arizona earlier in the year but that he “got sick.” He said that he went into rehab and that he's “all better now,” then led the band into a harrowing version of “Handshake Drugs.”

After a boisterous bunch of feamle fans kept yelling at Tweedy, the frontman chastised, “The show is not about you, girls. I'm glad you're into it, but...”

“I'm passionate!” one of the women yelled.

“Passionate?” Tweedy replied. “Is that what they call ‘drunk’ in Arizona?”

If passionate is, indeed, an Arizona euphemism for drunk then the Marquee Theatre crowd must have been bombed — the tightly-packed audience was downright worshipful of Tweedy's every move, even patiently waiting out the band's extended forays into layers of grating feedback that went on for minutes at a time.

“A lot of the songs were kind of like The Beatles only with a lot of noise going on,” said Beth Brand, who was celebrating her 42nd birthday by seeing Wilco for the first time. “I liked some of the noisy stuff, but I like the songs that were kind of country-ish the best.”

While the feedback experimentation left some in the crowd confused, most in the audience found the show transcendent.

“That was the best (expletive) show I've seen in years!” raved John Fogerty, 35, of Tempe. “They'd go off on these five minute jams, but they were structured jams. I thought it was unbelievable.”

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