Crowd disturbances at rock concerts are nothing new. At almost any show, you will inevitably have at least one guy or girl who, after a trip too many to the bar, winds up brawling with fellow concertgoers, throwing junk up on stage or incessantly slurring requests for their favorite song.
The way a band handles such interferences says a lot about its showmanship, and, considering the strange turn of events that went down at the quaint Shrine Mosque in Springfield, Mo., Jeff Tweedy and company proved they are a class act.
For the most part, the crowd nestled inside the surprisingly clean gymnasium was relaxed and subdued throughout the show, much as one would expect for a laid-back Wilco performance. The set kicked off with a tumultuous drum breakdown by Glen Kotche halfway through the ballad “Via Chicago,” followed by an audience-sung chorus on the jumpy piano jaunt “A Shot in the Arm.”
Things rolled along smoothly until the band finished the upbeat “War on War,” at which point a drunken tiff near the stage caught Tweedy’s attention. “That was rude,” he said, addressing a concertgoer who pushed the man next to him to the ground.
Not letting the obnoxious behavior affect the performance, the band continued on with the always crowd-pleasing “Jesus, Etc.” and “Forget the Flowers” before ripping into an excellent new tune, the bluesy “Walken,” and a pumped-up, guitar-heavy version of “Theologians.”
But catastrophe struck halfway through “Airline to Heaven” during the first encore when a drunken, college-aged fan hopped up on stage and attempted to grab Tweedy’s head and plant a kiss. This unexpected advance, naturally, caught the singer off guard, and Tweedy retaliated by pulling the man’s hair, smacking him in the face and shoving him out of the way.
Stunned, the audience dropped dead silent, anticipating what the band’s next move would be. It was a rather embarrassing reflection on the crowd in Southwest Missouri, and no one would have blamed Wilco for packing up and storming off stage right then and there. “It sucks when people come up and you’re trying to sing your heart out,” Tweedy said, but instead of throwing in the towel, the band picked up seamlessly where it left off mid-song.
“I feel terrible,” Tweedy continued after the song concluded. “I don’t like to punch someone in the face. It sucks. We can make it better.” Displaying expert showmanship and determined to boost audience morale, Tweedy interacted with the crowd on “Hummingbird,” shaking hands, dancing on stage and encouraging a heartwarming sing-along.
For the second encore, Wilco appeased the crowd with “Heavy Metal Drummer” before Nels Cline brilliantly brought the house down on “Let’s Not Get Carried Away,”
Overall, it was an amazing and tight performance in light of audience misconduct. The bigger question here is where in the world was security during all of this? In any case, Wilco was able to roll with the punches (literally), and the band professionally handled the situation to the best of its ability. Let’s just hope the experience hasn’t soured them from visiting these parts ever again.
Here is Wilco’s set list:
“A Shot in the Arm”
“I Am Trying To Break Your Heart”
“Company in My Back”
“War on War”
“At Least That’s What You Said”
“Forget the Flowers”
“I’m the Man Who Loves You”
“The Late Greats”
“Airline to Heaven”
“Heavy Metal Drummer”
“Let’s Not Get Carried Away”