Live Review: The Autumn Defense, Nels Cline, Eucademix, Ardmore, Pa., Dec. 8, 2022

Capping off what was meant to be a whole evening of Wilco side projects—curtailed somewhat by Glenn Kotche’s unavoidable absence—the Autumn Defense instead owned the stage at Ardmore Music Hall like they were meant to be headliners all along. 

Bringing together solid songcraft, an excellently curated mix of originals and covers, sweet harmonies, rock-star moves, maximum likability, and (not least) seasonably warm guitar tones, Pat Sansone and John Stirratt were the twin stars in a tight band that inhabits the same part of the Wilco galaxy. As natural as the Sansone/Stirratt duo is, the extra layers achieved with a larger lineup—notably James Haggerty on bass and Greg Wieczorek on drums, with late-set cameos from Frank Silvestry and Nels Cline on guitar—only enriched their sound: a little more soft rock here, an extra layer of crunch there, some tasty musical exchanges all around.

Many of the show’s highlights were bona fide classics, including a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Sentimental Lady” dedicated to Christine McVie, Love’s “A House Is Not A Motel,” Miracle Legion’s “Paradise,” Doug Sahm’s “Give Back The Keys To My Heart,” Wilco’s “It’s Just That Simple” and—because Sansone was still (always) in a Big Star mood after taking part in the tribute at the same venue two nights earlier—“You Can’t Have Me.” But originals from 2010’s Come Around made a great showing as well, particularly “Huntington Fair,” “The Swallows Of London Town” and “Every Day.”

With his usual intensity and a small arsenal of guitars, Cline held court for the show’s middle, leading us on a sonic journey that culminated in deconstructed and reconstructed tunes by Alice Peacock, Carla Bley and—joined by his wife, ex-Cibo Matto maestra Yuka C. Honda—Gal Acosta.

Eucademix (Honda’s delightfully named solo incarnation) opened with a meditative set that synthesized the sounds of nature, artist and machines with visuals evoking the mysterious eternal spark within the mind and the ever-moving forces around us.

—M.J. Fine; photos by Chris Sikich

Nels Cline