It all seems so easy for Wilco.
No one misses notes. The crowd sings along to everything. Every song sounds at least as good as it does on the records, which is pretty amazing considering how often their recordings tend to pull order out of chaos.
They frequently grin at each other on stage, as if there's a running inside joke. And singer Jeff Tweedy always seems to have the right quip for the audience between songs.
And when the band makes its annual trek to Berkeley's Greek Theatre every summer to play under the stars, as they did Friday night, everything comes together in ways other bands just can't seem to match.
For a group rooted in the Midwest, Berkeley sure seems, strangely, like home.
"We play this song a lot, but rarely is it as appropriate as when we play it here," Tweedy said halfway through the set, before launching into "Handshake Drugs."
With the half-moon hanging over the stage like a planned backdrop, Wilco played a more than two-hour set that was typically inspired. There might have been a lull or two during some new material from latest record "The Whole Love," but the powerful cohesion of having a set lineup for the past three albums more than made up for it. Rarely in the past decade has Wilco looked as comfortable on stage as on this tour. While some bands might ease up in that comfort zone, Wilco plowed ahead as if that comfort was an obstacle.
Opening easily with "Dawned on Me,"
New song "Born Alone" demonstrated how Wilco transforms melody into noise (and back again) better than perhaps any band this side of Radiohead. Tweedy -- always the clear leader of Wilco in both studio and on stage -- deferred more than usual to Cline, which worked well given the guitarist's ability to steer the band through dynamic ups and downs that other bands wouldn't even try. The easy changes and singalong nature of "Heavy Metal Drummer," in contrast, was more charming than ever.
Things got serious during the first encore, "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart," as if the band was acknowledging that this was the song that introduced the world to a deeper, more experimental Wilco a decade ago on breakthrough record "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot." The vibe intensified on "Art of Almost," on which drummer Glenn Kotche pulled the band along through pounding tempo changes that had everyone on stage banging their heads. It perfectly set up the airiness of "Hummingbird," and the aching sentimentality of "California Stars." The band ended with a second round of encores, reaching back to 1996 and the playful hook of "Outtasite (Outta Mind)" to send everyone home on a high note.
Wilco plays the Greek Theatre in Berkeley again Saturday night. Tickets are still available.