Archive for September, 2011

Wilco And The Art Of Being There

Posted in Music with tags , on September 27, 2011 by johnbuckley100

Leica D-Lux 3, ISO 800

Modern Wilco, the hip band that from Yankee Hotel Foxtrot on tuned us in to mysterious frequencies and gibberish language floating on the radio waves, is hellbent on showing their breadth.  So it is they could play a languid folk song like “One Sunday Morning (Song For Jane Smiley’s Boyfriend)” at Merriweather Post the other night, immediately following the Television-like “Black Bull Nova.”  Sometimes their folky consonant impulse is trumped by their noise-rock dissonant impulse in the same song, such as “Via Chicago,” which led off their encore, and includes the band just wailing, from out of nowhere, while Tweedy sings on as if nothing were amiss, his youthful voice prettily keeping to the melody.

There’s something oddly satisfying about their sweet’n’sour approach, even when it’s revealed as schtick.  When “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart” led off Foxtrot a decade ago, it was at once a reminder of the junkie cadences of Tom Verlaine’s “Yonki Time,” mashed up with the raw angst expressed by Alex Chilton in Sister Lovers — an in-the-moment, off-kilter, druggy song charming mostly in the way melody fought through entropy.  But now when they come out and they play it note for note — well, it’s incredibly powerful, but it’s show biz, right, an amazingly proficient band able to re-manufacture the moment of creativity, on stage, before 10,000 people, night after night.

I’ll take Wilco’s perfectionist absence of spontaneity over a less ambitious band’s more sincere raucousness, so long as they keep churning out albums with the scope and ambition of The Whole Love, released today, and with enough grist that we’ll be working through it for months, maybe years.

We’ve previously referenced how The Whole Love invokes Wilco’s Beatles impulse.  On Sky Blue Sky, we loved the tongue-in-cheek evocation of Abbey Road‘s sound — from Ringo’s plodding drums to the Billy Preston keyboards during the bridge of “I Hate It Here.”  On The Whole Love, we have Tweedy invoking John Lennon on “Sunloathe,” and “Capitol City” could have fallen off the back of the truck carrying The White Album master to the factory.  Just as we don’t begrudge them their consummate professionalism onstage, we love the fact that only Wilco and Olivia Tremor Control have figured out how to sound like the entire quartet, the complete Fab 4 — a little Macca vocal, a-a-nd here’s that George slide sound…

The first three songs of the concert the other night, all from The Whole Love — “The Art of Almost,” followed by “I Might,” followed by “Black Moon” — could be Wilco in miniature: experimental art-rock building to a psychedelic crescendo, followed by an homage to the New Wave soul sound of Get Happy, followed by a tuneful acoustic picker of almost breathtaking delicacy.  Sometimes the live band consists of three guitars and a keyboard, or two keyboards and two guitars, but its sound is always dense and layered, with multiple virtuosi — talents on the order of Nels Cline and Pat Sansone aren’t usually teamed in the same band, just like baseball teams don’t usually have a rotation like the Phillies’ — and always there is Tweedy, the Everyman with the rumpled, just-out-of-bed-even-if-I’m-dressed-up look, and the voice that is astonishingly even, steady, youthful, deceptively elastic and true.  We used to think it was anodyne, now we think it’s genius.

Longtime readers of Tulip Frenzy know that, over the years, we’ve been ambivalent about Wilco, for one reason in particular.  We don’t like bands that lull people into singing along with what we’ve perceived as heroin-chic lyrics — “Guess all I need is a shot in the arm… there’s something in my veins bloodier than blood”– etc.  In fact, the other night, we saw a dad lifting his little tow-head girl into the air while singing those words, and we thought, “Good God, man, listen to what you’re singing!”  On the other side of the ledger, when critics put down Sky Blue Sky because after Foxtrot  and A Ghost Is Born, it supposedly lacked “an edge,” it was a dumb allusion to Tweedy’s post-recovery sobriety, and one that pissed us off.

We’re done wrestling with Wilco.  The band that once titled an album Being There is — if you are there and in the moment, as they say — incredibly entertaining and enjoyable.  They also are, by dint of their accumulated songbook and the weight of their albums, the most “important” band of the present age, and what they produce achieves genuine greatness.  From the Southern rock of A.M.  to the encyclopedic The Whole Love, Wilco’s growth curve puts a fair number of pantheon cohabitants — we’re talking about you, U2 — to shame.  We throw in the towel, and not with reluctance.  Wilco has earned full rights to our devotion.

UPDATE: Anyone noticed how near the end of “One Sunday Morning (Song For Jane Smiley’s Boyfriend),” Nels Cline and Mikael Jorgenson/Pat Sansone sound EXACTLY like Fripp and Eno on Evening Star?

UPDATE 2: Dig the way on the D-Lux version on iTunes, includes the song “I Love My Label,” which is a direct invocation of Camper Van Beethoven.  Anyone can invoke the Ramones, but only the very cool dare sound like Camper.  Nice move, and happy about the record label, guys.

Tulip Frenzy Salutes Wilco On The Eve Of “The Whole Love”

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on September 27, 2011 by johnbuckley100

It was a magnificent show at Merriweather Post Pavilion.  Leica D-Lux 3, ISO 800, a little noise reduction in Lightroom 3.  More tomorrow when the album’s officially out.

The Long Wait Being Over

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on September 22, 2011 by johnbuckley100

Maybe more appropriate as recognition of a new Calexico album, not the Jayhawks.  But things did seem sorta parched without them… Leica M8, Wide Angle Tele-Elmar (18mm).

The Jayhawks’ “Mockingbird Time” Is A Most Unusual Comeback

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on September 22, 2011 by johnbuckley100

Bands break up and bands reform, but it’s unusual to have a group’s founder turn over the keys to his fellow guitarist, songwriting pal and co-harmonizer, who in turn drives the music to new heights, only to have the Prodigal Folkie return and pick up right where they all left off sixteen years ago.

We loved The Jayhawks when Gary Louris was able to stretch his ample frame and take them from their roots-rock ghetto into being more of a classical Americana rock band, loved Smile and especially Rainy Day Music.  We loved that he no longer had to make room for Mark Olson’s quite different approach — loved that Louris could focus on riffs and hooks, self-harmonizing and gorgeous.  But damn if their reformation doesn’t seem to take the best of original band’s charms — their earnest evocation of the second side of Exile On Main Street, their Roger McGuinn sensibilities — and match it nicely with what Louris was doing when only his hands were on the wheel.

It was odd enough, though of course a clue giving hope to the original band’s fervent followers, that in the final phase of the break up period, circa 2008, Louris and Olson made an album together, like a divorced couple going on vacation.  The attraction clearly was still there, and on the superb “Bicycle,” we got a glimmer, a taste of what life might be like if the whole band pedaled together. In the annals of rock’n’roll, Louris has a unique ego, willing to share leadership with the man who’d turned it over to him in the back half of the 1990s.

And then this summer came “She Walks In So Many Ways,” with its chiming, Byrdsy Rickenbacker chords, and the sound of Louris and Olson harmonizing, the one voice tacking straight to the horizon (Olson), the other aiming for the sky (Gary Louris.) I remember hearing it come on the radio out West on a bright July afternoon, followed by Wilco’s “I Might,” and thinking that the Minneapolis band had a clear smack down over the boys from Chicago.  And now comes Mockingbird Time and it is almost entirely wonderful.

It begins powerfully, with the throbbing, declarative “Hide Your Colors,” Karen Grotberg’s rollicking piano underneath strings and a George Wilbury guitar solo.  And you immediately welcome back the status quo ante, the pre-Louris-led band.  By the time you’ve listened to “She Walks In So Many Ways” (for the thousandth time, since no doubt you’ve been playing it over and over), and get into the infectious “High Water Blues,” the old enthusiasms return, and with it the hope that this fine American band get, not just the recognition it deserves — it is widely recognized as a national gem, the Jayhawks certainly aren’t lacking in respect — but that it assume its rightful place in the top ranks of American bands.

The return of Mark Olson to the Jayhawks is like hearing a Midwest factory is back to full employment, that an orphaned language has regained a speaker.  Louris’ making room for him is a profile in musical courage.

Welcome back.

The Sweet Hereafter

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on September 14, 2011 by johnbuckley100

Leica M9, 21mm Summilux (cropped)

Jesse Sykes And The Sweet Hereafter Spend The Afterlife In Our Mind & Then The Mystery Gets Solved

Posted in Music with tags , , on September 14, 2011 by johnbuckley100

A stopped clock is right twice each day and about once a year, Jon Pareles actually does his job well enough to send us off to check out music we had not heard before.  So it was, in early August, that we discovered Jesse Sykes and The Sweet Hereafter’s Marble Son.  It’s a beguiling record, spooky, weird, and haunting.  And hugely satisfying.  But of course while Pareles’ description got us intrigued enough to check our couch for quarters before walking down to the iTunes Store, he was off in his description of the band. “There’s nothing neo- about this band’s psychedelica,” he wrote.  Okay, we thought.  We filled up the waterbed, donned our paisley duds, and put on the headphones, only to discover… well, the music’s not quite psychedelic, neo- or otherwise.  Something else, something that we couldn’t quite put our finger on.  It was killing us.  Love the band, the guitarist is a killer, but who’s he when he’s at home, as they say?

On the difficulty of categorizing these guys we might even be sympathetic to the Chief Music Critic For The New York Times, or whatever Jon amounted to, because this is a hard band to get a handle on.   These aren’t refugees from the Summer of Love. Better to imagine Blind Faith recording their album in the Bay Area, in that achy period of post-psychedelic disillusionment.  When they flex their power chords, which they do quite often, the thundering riffs can bring to mind current San Francisco neo-psychs Assemble Head In Starburst Sound, or maybe Black Mountain, though there’s a finger-picking delicacy too. What makes The Sweet Hereafter sui generis — and passing strange — is their leader’s voice.  There is nothing else in rock’n’roll music to compare to Jesse Sykes’ voice.  We’re sort of amazed that someone who sings like she does would think of music for a career path.  And we like her!  This isn’t a put down!  But when we close our eyes and try imagining who might be singing, I swear to God what comes to mind is a vision of The Good Witch breaking into a lamentation over being dumped by the Wizard of Oz.  And then the band leaps into this Quicksilver Messenger Service coda that makes Devendra Banhart’s band seem like plodders.  When Sykes sings a single line, unadorned by harmonies layered on by herself or others, there is something so theatrically out of time that, yeah, I guess psychedelia sounds about right.    And when she fires up the whole chorus — listen to the title track, for starters — angelic magic comes galloping in like a horse of a different color.

So we got to thinking… As unique as Jesse’s voice may be, the guitarist sounds familiar… and is so remarkable, for weeks we’ve been tantalized.  “This sounds like someone, who?”  And we read her bio on her website, and saw the reference to “Wandscher” and thought about it a little… the tumblers begin to click… and we slapped our forehead!  It’s Phil Wandscher, the guitarist from Whiskeytown!  The hugely canny guitarist on only the single greatest record of the ’90s, Strangers Almanac.  And it all makes sense.  So… imagine if Whiskeytown were jamming in some first communion afterparty with the Good Witch…  Well, you get the point.  Now get the album.

Good Lord, Huntsman Actually Does Know His Beefheart

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on September 6, 2011 by johnbuckley100

Okay, we’ll say it: if Jon Huntsman survives until the D.C. primary — is there a D.C. primary? — the entire staff of Tulip Frenzy will march down to that polling booth and… and… sorry, fingers can’t quite type it… well, we’ll think highly of him.  Okay?  (Editor: Not good enough.  You promised to endorse him.)  Okay, okay, based on this apparently genuine interview in Slate in which Huntsman does appear to answer a few of the questions we posed a few weeks back, it would, er, um, appear that Huntsman has earned Tulip Frenzy’s endorsement.  (Editor: Go on.)  Okay, okay.  So, Tulip Frenzy Endorses Huntsman.  Okay, we said it.

(Hat tip to Mark McKinnon.)

Praying The Fires In Yellowstone End Soon

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on September 4, 2011 by johnbuckley100

Leica M7, Fuji Velvia film, 2004(?) when fires in Montana clouded the sky,   By the way, the guy who got gobbled by the bear was killed about a mile behind these buffalo-strewn Haydon Valley hillocks.

Wilco’s Wildly Ambitious “The Whole Love”

Posted in Music with tags , , , , on September 4, 2011 by johnbuckley100

Years ago, when Wilco was nailing Southern rock and becoming demigods, you may not have thought of them in the same breath as The Beatles, but in late September, when they release The Whole Love on Apple Records — I mean, on their own label using Apple’s iTunes Store — you’ll see what we mean.  WilcoWorld has nicely let us stream the album in its entirety for the past 24 hours, and in a throwback to those days when one would listen to the Beatles or Stones or the Who’s new album over and over, we’ve done just that.  The player even shows a vinyl record spinning.  They have a complete understanding of what they’re doing, of the company they’re in.

“Art of Almost,” which kicks things off, might make you think of Radiohead before you’d ever get to, say, Uncle Tupelo. When Nels Cline shows off at the end, it’s not some exercise in formalism, but an embrace of rock’n’roll song extension, a throwback to those vinyl days when what was so enchanting was the way bands would leave the tape spinning as they boogied on in the studio and you wished you were a fly on the wall for that moment when, ten minutes after the song officially ended, the musicians would just, suddenly, stop.  (Sometimes you’d even hear a guitarist yell, “I’ve got blisters on me fingers!”)

We’ve been listening for weeks to “I Might,” the single, and it’s a bright bit of power pop replete with Farfisa.  And a reminder that, if Wilco can start a new album with two such different expressions of possibility, this is a band that can play anything.  And on The Whole Love, they do.

Ten years ago, when Warner Brothers was defiantly proving why record labels were willing themselves to extinction by refusing to release Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, it did seem to me that that record had taken Big Star’s Sister Lovers as its template.  You know what I mean, a big, troubled, druggy mess with enough beauty at its core that it was riveting.  An idea that was proved by I Am Trying To Break Your Heart, the documentary that illustrated why the band needed to be reformed, with the cerebral Cline replacing the late Jay Bennett as Tweedy’s instrumental foil.  On The Whole Love, the template that comes to mind is The White Album. A big statement, yes, but the melding of acoustic songs, the delving into idioms that preceded rock’n’roll, the notion of craft that transcends what any other rock band in the universe might produce – these guys don’t even have the Stones as peers, they are literally peerless — all the while clinging to sufficient pop structures that even contain hooks… Well, Wilco by now are masters, sui generis.  Except, increasingly, for invoking one band in particular… It’s not just that “Sunloathe” sounds like it could have been on Abbey Road, that Tweedy sounds like Lennon and that Cline plays his George Harrison guitar.  These guys have reached that upper echelon of rock experimentalists.  Again, ambitious like The Beatles.

We thought Wilco (The Album) was a rare letdown, a step backward after Sky Blue Sky.  It was almost as if they went to New Zealand as much to record 7 Worlds Collide as their own record.  Now, after two years of hosting their own festival showcasing their taste and side projects, they came roaring back with something bigger, stronger, more ambitious, more tuneful than anything that has come to date.  This is a band that would seem to be at the top of its form, if they also didn’t seem so ready to take things into an historic next level.  By the time you nod your head to the great album rock cut “Born Alone,” you’re ready for the grand conclusion of “One Sunday Morning,” a Dylanesque title for a Beatlesesque conclusion.  Get ready for a whole lotta loving of The Whole Love.

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