Can you blame Wilco for opening their October 20 concert at the Santa Barbara Bowl with “A Shot in the Arm”? Not only is it funny, but it’s also one of their best tunes and would have made a great start even without the excruciating topicality of the reference. Over the last two decades, the band — Jeff Tweedy, John Stirratt, Glenn Kotche, Mikael Jorgensen, Pat Sansone, and Nels Cline — has developed into one of the most impressive live acts in music. They come with a glorious catalog of material that ranges from sweet little rockers like “Box Full of Letters” to the experimental extravagance of albums such as Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, A Ghost Is Born, and Ode to Joy. And on Wednesday night, it felt like they might play absolutely all of it.
There’s so much goodness here that it’s hard to single anything out as a highlight. Is it the sweetness of Tweedy’s voice or the urgency of the excellent live arrangements that seem to breathe new life into each number, no matter how familiar? What about the soaring virtuosity of Cline’s guitar work? It’s all of the above and more. When you think about what’s been missing in terms of live music, this concert had it all, and the Santa Barbara audience was ecstatic to be back and basking in the splendor.