Do the evolution: charting Wilco’s sonic shifts ahead of band’s Dallas show

Standing inside an industrial space, Wilco faces the camera

Wilco. Photo: Peter Crosby

The only constant in life, the old saying goes, is change.

Few rock bands better embody such truth than Wilco, the ever-evolving, genre-fluid collective led by ace singer-songwriter Jeff Tweedy.

The group is bearing down on its third full decade — 2024 will mark 30 years since Wilco’s formation from the ashes of Uncle Tupelo. That the band is surprising as ever is a testament to Tweedy and his collaborators’ restless artistic appetites.

Cousin, Wilco’s 13th studio album was produced by Cate Le Bon and drops Sept. 29.  The Chicago band will perform in Dallas just before the day of the record’s release, its first North Texas stop since a 2019 swing through Irving. My Brightest Diamond, which features University of North Texas alum and singer-songwriter Shara Nova, is scheduled to open.

To help prepare you for this sure-to-be-eclectic gig, here’s a playlist culled from Wilco’s three-decade existence, tracing the arc — and the evolution — of one of America’s greatest rock bands.

“Box Full of Letters” (1995)

In the immediate aftermath of Uncle Tupelo, Wilco didn’t initially stray terribly far from the Americana-juiced rock style of that prior act. Still, the glistening melodies, biting guitars and deft lyrics — Tweedy already had a handle on finding the humor in pain: “I got a lot of your records in a separate stack/Some things I might like to hear but I guess I’ll give ‘em back.”

“A Shot in the Arm” (1999)

By the band’s third album, Summerteeth, the contours of what would come to be the Wilco style was becoming evident. This single, an insistent, restless piano figure against the churn of percussion and acoustic guitar, evokes Beatles and Beach Boys tossed into a blender and served with a whiskey chaser.

“War on War” (2002)

Wilco’s fourth album, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, seemed to break everything open and establish the group as an artistic force to be reckoned with. Arriving as it did amid the cultural upheaval in post-Sept. 11 America (the album was originally streamed on Wilco’s website just seven days after the Sept. 11 attacks, but not released in physical form until the following spring), there’s an undeniable malaise and tension coursing beneath even the sunniest tracks, like this single.

“Impossible Germany” (2007)

Sky Blue Sky, Wilco’s sixth studio album, was cut largely live, moving the band away from the intricate studio trickery and effects it had deployed on prior records. The result collapsed the distance between the recording studio and the stage, where Wilco has long cultivated a reputation as one of the most dynamic, consistently thrilling live acts in circulation. This track, when it makes the setlist, is often a highlight in concert.

“Evicted” (2023)

Ironically enough, Wilco has come all the way back around to embracing the alt-country flourishes it began with 30 years ago. With its prior album (2022’s Cruel Country) and the forthcoming Cousin, Tweedy is leaning into his autumnal years and splitting the difference between rustic candor and atmospheric sonic touches in a way that should satisfy long-time listeners.

Wilco at South Side Ballroom, Dallas. 7:30 p.m. Sept. 28. Tickets are $59.95.

Preston Jones is a North Texas freelance writer and regular contributor to KXT. Email him at [email protected] or find him on X (@prestonjones). Our work is made possible by our generous, music-loving members. If you like how we lift up local music, consider becoming a KXT sustaining member right here.