Wilco rocks until rain plays the coda
LOWELL - A starting lineup was beamed on the scoreboard Saturday night at LeLacheur Park, but instead of listing pitchers and hitters it was guitarists and drummers as rockers Wilco took the field.
In a set cut short by rain but still long on sonic pleasures, the sextet eagerly roamed through its catalog old and new, stopping at every style along the way from swinging alt-country to warped folk to interludes that deftly intertwined cacophony and tenderness, classic rock and contemporary free-spiritedness.
The park layout is not ideal as wind and bounceback were intermittent irritants, a pitiable video screen was abandoned after the second song, and the separation of the audience by the infield made it feel like two different shows. Yet despite its drawbacks the setting felt festive and easy.
Of the handful of new tunes shuffled into the set, the incongruously dread-filled but tuneful “Bull Black Nova’’ was a highlight as stabbing keyboards and guitars tortured the song’s going batty protagonist, and guitarist Nels Cline - a marvel all night - went off on a flight of six-string fancy that was simultaneously twisted and beautiful.
The park seats 5,000, and with the stands nearly full and probably half again that many in the standing room pit in front of the stage, the multigenerational crowd made itself heard. They sang along to the shaggy but shimmering pop gem “A Shot in the Arm,’’ stomped on the bleachers between songs - “That sounds like Fred Flintstone when he runs,’’ quipped frontman Jeff Tweedy - and tirelessly clapped over their heads during the epic and squealy regular set closer “Spiders (Kidsmoke).’’
Tweedy joked that the collective clatter was making it rain but whatever the cause, the weather took a hairpin turn from a few gentle summer drops to an assault of biblical variety and fans either took cover or took off. Roadies hastily covered the instruments, and within minutes the band reemerged and drummer Glenn Kotche jumped atop his stool, sticks aloft, challenging the rain. They were only able to romp through the chipper ambler “I’m the Man Who Loves You,’’ as those in the pit giddily danced in the downpour, before conceding defeat to Mother Nature at the 100- minute mark. (Judging by recent setlists the audience missed out on at least five more songs.)
It was a beautiful night until it wasn’t, and even then it still retained a sense of jubilant, if wet, shared experience.
Conor Oberst & the Mystic Valley Band prepped the crowd with an hourlong performance that set the erstwhile Bright Eyes singer-songwriter’s delicate musings about life on the road and pain in your heart to tunes rooted in folk, country, and Americana that evoked everyone from the Grateful Dead to Wilco itself.
Sarah Rodman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org