DENVER — Sometimes it's simply a matter of being there.
On Saturday, in the final show of a cross-country trek that began in September, Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy shared the center-stage spotlight with a shiny, illuminated laptop computer. If it seemed an odd instrumental accessory on an otherwise minimalist stage, it wasn't: Eschewing its status as an alt-country offshoot, the now Chicago-based band has embraced the tools of technology to create a swirling, atmospheric amalgam of noise. So when Tweedy occasionally set down his fire-engine-red Rickenbacker in order to take solos on the Powerbook — teasing distorted, industrial-sounding squalls and faux distortion from its keys — he removed any doubt that Wilco has shed their blue-collar beginnings and moved into a future age.
Wearing a brown sport coat and his trademark slouch, Tweedy led his newly configured band through a low-key but playful set that touched on every phase of Wilco's career, rarely stopping to speak to or acknowledge the sold-out crowd of more than 1,000 inside the historic Ogden Theatre. Not that anyone seemed to mind: A sea of short-cropped haircuts and denim jackets, Tweedy's fans received him with the kind of quiet reverence normally reserved for cult leaders and religious icons. Though Tweedy is most often celebrated as a songwriter, he moved through the 90-minute set with the kind of effortless charisma that has made him one of rock and roll's more enigmatic band leaders, sharing slacker meditations on suburban alienation, love and just being broke in such songs as "She's a Jar," "A Shot in the Arm" (from Summerteeth) and "Misunderstood" (from Being There).
Alternating between electric and acoustic guitars, Tweedy culled material from each of Wilco's studio efforts — as well as Mermaid Avenue, the band's first Woody Guthrie-inspired collaboration with Billy Bragg — and also played unreleased songs from the forthcoming Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, currently available only through the Web site wilcoweb.com. After a difficult year that's seen the departure of longtime member/multi-instrumentalist Jay Bennett, as well as a split with Reprise Records, Tweedy seemed to have settled into a new lineup that includes only one other original member, bassist John Stirratt. Drummer Glen Kotche added a primitive touch by sometimes opting to play not with sticks, but with compulsive pats from the palms of his hands, while Leroy Bach manned both electric piano and a church-style organ. At one point during "Via Chicago," the band made room for a member of the road crew — a sound technician who'd been frantically recalibrating Tweedy's guitars all night — to come onstage and strum a few notes of his own.
Much of Wilco's new material shimmered with a more straightforward pop sensibility than the brooding spareness that has defined so much of the band's career so far. But songs such as "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart" and "I'm the Man Who Loves You" — augmented by jarring computer-generated interjections — were unabashed forays into full-throttle psychedelia, a wall of chaotic sound that washed over the sweaty sea of attentive bodies.
Wilco's appeal lies largely in their unwillingness to stay put in any one place stylistically, and their ability to recreate the complexities of their recorded sound in a live setting. But it's the band's heartland simplicity that still endears it most to fans, as evidenced by the round of hoots and hollers that rose up during a refrain from "Misunderstood": "You're short on long-term goals/ There's a party that we oughta go to/ You still love rock and roll."