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Wilco brings alt-country to Tampa Bay

“A fist so clear and climbing punches a hole in the sky so you can see for yourself.” Arguably Wilco’s most beautiful song, “Less Than You Think” is just a taste of what is to be heard Wednesday. Tweedy and his band Wilco visit the Tampa Performing Arts Center on Feb. 16, allowing fans to see for themselves this astounding band.

Wilco is indeed a fist, and it is indeed climbing — with each album a step above its predecessor — to the peak of near-perfect rock music. Critically acclaimed since their debut album A.M. in 1995, Wilco has produced solid album after solid album.

Unrelentingly, Wilco has clearly mastered the art of alt-country, although their sixth album, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, transcended any genre, by blending the sound of bluegrass and country with a mix of The Beatles, Bob Dylan and Ryan Adams. Through Tweedy’s genius songwriting, Wilco has established itself as one the most powerful and distinct bands around, having mastered the art of the soulful, acoustic guitar-and piano-based songs, as well as the occasional rocker.

At Wednesday’s show, expect to hear tunes from the band’s last two major releases: 2002’s Foxtrot and 2004’s A Ghost is Born, although throughout the band’s current tour, setlists have varied. Tweedy got his start as part of Uncle Tupelo, a band considered by many to be father of the alt-country genre.

After a span of four albums, partner Jay Farrar left Tupelo — according to some, he grew weary of Tweedy’s emerging creativeness — to form Son Volt. When Tweedy and Tupelo’s remaining members formed Wilco, any question of who was the superior talent between Tweedy and Farrar was answered with the release of Being There in 1996, a two-disc set that included gems like the heartfelt “Misunderstood” and the raw, pounding “Dreamer In My Dreams.”

Ghost, if anything, shows Wilco’s ability to produce different styles while the album maintained a sense of evenness. “Muzzle of Bees” showed Tweedy’s softer side; “Hummingbird” is a pop masterpiece and “I’m a Wheel” shows the band hasn’t lost its desire to turn things up once in a while.

But don’t think Wilco has been all sweet, because controversy is something Tweedy and Co. have become familiar with.

Before the release of Foxtrot — a record filled with unusual pops, snaps and other weird noises — Wilco’s record label, Reprise Records, told the band the album wasn’t “commercial enough” (Ghost’s “A Company In My Back” goes deeper into this situation) and demanded Wilco come up with something more marketable, with one executive calling the record “career-ending.”

As it turns out, the controversy had exactly the opposite effect, as news of Wilco’s defiance — it eventually signed with Nonesuch Records — only bolstered the band’s popularity, when the record debuted at No. 16 and was certified gold shortly after its release.

The scratchy but soft-voiced Tweedy, who, last April, entered a rehabilitation center to undergo treatment for an addiction to painkillers (he suffered from migraines), admits he suffered depression, anxiety and panic disorder, but told Rolling Stone that the rehab was a “beautiful experience.”

And after the final song, fans will walk away pleased, having seen for themselves what this band is truly capable of.

Wilco plays the Tampa Performing Arts Center on Feb. 16 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are still available.