One of the best live rock bands in the world played a nearly hourlong Live on Letterman showcase tonight, and yes, folks, it was awesome.

Between the guitar playing of [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Nels Cline[/lastfm], the drumming of [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Glenn Kotche[/lastfm], and the songs and voice of bandleader [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Jeff Tweedy[/lastfm], Chicago band [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Wilco[/lastfm] crafted a mesmerizing, mind-blowing set that proved rock and roll is very much alive and well.

Watch Wilco’s Live on Letterman performance on demand:


The songs during tonight’s set moved from acoustic strummers to soulful, laid-back loungers and full-on guitar-thrashing epics–the latter courtesy of [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Nels Cline[/lastfm], easily among the best lead guitarists this side of [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Richard Lloyd[/lastfm].

And it’s just that variety and range of material–and the fact these six players (the band also includes bassist [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]John Stirratt[/lastfm] and multi-instrumentalists [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Pat Sansone[/lastfm] and [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Mikael Jorgensen[/lastfm], all of them insanely talented) can switch so effortlessly between sounds, tempos, and melodies–that makes the Wilco experience so full of fire.

wilco purple letterman 100970 d0338 385 Wilco Brings The Whole Love To Ed Sullivan Theater For Powerhouse Live On Letterman Concert

Photo: Heather Wines/CBS

The sexy, smoky electronic beats that introduced the set’s first song, “Art of Almost”–lead track off Wilco’s brand-new album The Whole Love (due in stores Sept. 27)–soon gave way a fiery rush of guitars–the machine was warmed up and starting to steam.

wilco letterman 100970 d0099 Wilco Brings The Whole Love To Ed Sullivan Theater For Powerhouse Live On Letterman Concert

Heather Wines/CBS

But Tweedy and company can just as easily pull out an easygoing melody that gets everyone smiling (as were Tweedy and his longtime musical partner, bassist John Stirratt) and singing along–as they did on “I Might” (also from The Whole Love) and then “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart,” a Wilco signature song from their landmark album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (and the title of a documentary about the band).

The mood got quiet on the beautiful “One Wing,” then kicked back into high gear on the band’s latest single “Born Alone.”  “Whole Love” was built on a great, happy-go-lucky melody (something Wilco still can do incredibly well), while “Handshake Drugs” (from A Ghost Is Born) started out minimal but proved to be a raging ball of energy. Whatever the song or the style, this was a band that could truly play (and Tweedy, smiling throughout much of the set, obviously knew he was lucky to be working with this crew).

“Jesus Etc.” showed a groovy ’60s lounge vibe, all keyboards and lap steel, while “Impossible Germany” was all about the guitars (“This is Wilco’s Layla” wrote webcast watcher Bryan Gordon).

On the latter song, Cline’s guitar solo really gets up and goes, channeling [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Santana[/lastfm] in a great way and then moving further into new neighborhoods. Or maybe it was outer space. The song takes the whole concept of the guitar solo to a new place and makes it exciting again, destroying all tired preconceptions along the way.

nels cline wilco letterman 385 Wilco Brings The Whole Love To Ed Sullivan Theater For Powerhouse Live On Letterman Concert

Nels Cline

And as if there was nowhere else to go, Cline pulls out an eye-catching, white double-neck guitar for the next song, the buzzing “Dawned On Me.” Another new one from The Whole Love, it gets loud, but the melody is always there as an anchor–the beauty of Wilco is they never leave you alone in the wilderness.

“War on War” starts out with an acoustic intro, but like so many great Wilco songs, you can never predict where it’s going–in this case some snazzy guitar licks and out-there electronic sounds. This is not a band that ‘settles.’

The show came to a close with “Shot in the Arm,” a song from Wilco’s 1999 album Summerteeth that was immediately catchy–and the crowd, both in-person and online, ate it right up.

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wilco letterman vertical 100970 d0014 385 Wilco Brings The Whole Love To Ed Sullivan Theater For Powerhouse Live On Letterman Concert

Heather Wines/CBS

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