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Adventuresome Wilco keeps soaring, pushing the envelope

Wilco performed last night on a stage stripped to nothing, with the bones of the Bank of America Pavilion exposed, and no visual bells or whistles to beef up the entertainment quotient. Wilco isn't the only rock group whose music can stand alone -- but it's the only band of its caliber that would risk it. The Chicago outfit has built a brilliant career from combining sturdy American songcraft with a fearless sense of adventure, and their Boston show was no exception.

Wilco is on the road in support of "Sky Blue Sky," a collection of warm folk-rock and alt-country gems reminiscent of the group's early, earthy sound. But everything Jeff Tweedy and company has explored in the last decade -- psychedelic soul, lush pop, ambient drones -- was woven into the mix, and with few exceptions the songs (old and new) felt freshly considered. "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart" was transformed into an ethereal march -- all twinkling keyboards and walloping drums -- that narrowed into a ribbon of pure noise.

There is nothing this band can't play, and in the course of nearly two hours there was hardly anything they didn't: winsome pop ("Jesus, etc." and "Hummingbird" ), hard rock ("Spiders (Kidsmoke)") , dreamy meditations ("On and On and On" ) and Woody Guthrie ("California Stars" ). Wilco may be the world's only experimental country band, and in avant-garde guitarist Nels Cline , the newest member in a notoriously shifting lineup, it feels like Wilco has found a key piece of their musical puzzle.

Cline didn't so much play solos as embark on mind-bending excursions made of searing, serpentine runs or punishing pedal steel. When he swooped into the blues waltz "Side with the Seeds," loosing shards of razor-edged notes, or punctured the sedate surface of "Handshake Drugs" by rubbing at his strings like they were a stubborn spot, Cline wasn't just being interesting -- he was supplying the songs' dark, complicated subplot.

"What you once were isn't what you want to be anymore," Tweedy sang on " Shot in the Arm." Happily, he and his ever-changing, endlessly inventive band don't hesitate to do something about it.

Joan Anderman can be reached at For more on music visit music/blog.



With Low

At: Bank of America Pavilion, last night