Archive for Wilco

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.

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.

On The Moral Stance Of Spiritualized’s “Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space”

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on December 12, 2009 by johnbuckley100

Longtime readers of Tulip Frenzy may know that we don’t think the glorification of heroin by rock bands is cool.  We love Wilco, but we’ve never been sure whether Jeff Tweedy is trying to praise smack or bury it, before it buries him.  So how, you may ask, can we believe, as we do, that Spiritualized’s Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space is one of the great albums of the ’90s, worthy of its recent multi-CD relaunch?  After all, doesn’t its greatest song, “I Think I’m Falling In Love,” play as one long, enticing nod?

“Sun so bright that I’m nearly blind
Cool cos I’m wired and I’m out of my mind
Warms the dope running down my spine
But I don’t care ’bout you and I’ve got nothing to do
Free as the warmth in the air that I breathe
Even freer than dmt
Feel the warmth of the sun in me
But I don’t care ’bout you and I’ve got nothing to do
Love in the middle of the afternoon
Just me, my spike in my arm and my spoon
Feel the warmth of the sun in the room
But I don’t care ’bout you
And I’ve got nothin’ ”

Well, maybe.  “Cop Shoot Cop” begins with the lyrics, “There’s a hole in my arm where the money goes.”  And when listened to as a whole, the album is one of the most devastating portraits of the dislocation and loss that comes from chemical dependency I can think of.  There’s the vertiginous feel of someone about to plunge off the bridge, life over, nothing left.  It does not paint a warm picture of junkiedom.

In fact, one of the reasons it’s so powerful is because of the lack of ambiguity about smack.  Jason Pierce is as famously louche as Keith Richards, without the latter’s Devil-sold constitution, but in this regard he is more of an object lesson than an exemplar.  Whereas when Tweedy sings, and all the kids singalong, “All I need is a shot in the arm,” and “There’s something in my veins/bloodier than blood,” I’m not sure the audience gets that this is not a good thing.

Why is the official moral stance of Tulip Frenzy to condemn ambiguity about heroin use?  Well, we’ve never forgotten our friend Byron Coley’s letter to the paper we worked for, The Soho Weekly News, when around August 1979 it showed a young blond woman on the cover with a straw and a line of white powder and the headline, “Now Heroin.”  And Byron wrote in a letter to the editor words to the effect of, “Your audience doesn’t have the critical sensibility of, say, readers of Foreign Affairs, and when they see you holding out heroin as chic, they may take the bait.   And this is what happened to Charlie Parker and others, some of whom died, and the rest got buried.”

Fans of hip British rock bands do not necessarily have the sensibilities of readers of Foreign Affairs.  Ambiguity about heroin can send exactly the wrong message to the vulnerable.  Spiritualized’s epic album may, to some, send a signal that heroin is cool.  I actually think it is a glorious, beautiful reminder that it just completely isn’t, that squalor ensues, that raggedness and a loss of humanity proceed the reckoning, if you’re lucky enough to survive and have one.

Wilco (The Album), And A Ghost Is Born

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on July 1, 2009 by johnbuckley100

What are we to make of the fact that Wilco has released a fine eponymous album within a week of former member Jay Bennett’s death from an overdose of painkillers? Bennett’s departure from the band after Yankee Hotel Foxtrot removed a destabilizing, if creative, element from the band, and judging from what they’ve produced with the new, by now five-year old lineup — not to mention Jeff Tweedy’s sobriety and seriousness of purpose — the band is better off for his absence.  And yet Bennett’s role as a ghost in the machine has now reached spectral dimensions, RIP.

The album showcases all that’s been good and not so good since A Ghost Is Born.  The guitar interplay between Tweedy and Nels Cline is spectacular.  Not all of the songs thrill, and instead of Southern three-chord rock,  the dynamic stems from subtle guitar squalls rising over placid oceans.  And then there are songs like “Bull Black Nova,” which make you want to shout out loud as the band moves with the liquidity of  mercury through the boogie pop slalom — “96 Tears” as played by Television.  The title song — its title taking PIL’s genericism one step further by being entitled “Wilco” — gets the album off at a thrilling tempo, and it seems perfectly clear to me that Tweedy must have been playing the live version of Derek & The Dominos “Got To Get Better In A Little While” on that long flight to New Zealand, where Wilco went to record Wilco.   (Listen to the two songs back to back…)

There was a time when I was ambivalent about Wilco’s greatness, but everything they’ve done in this decade makes a claim for greatness.  I no longer have the beef that Tweedy seems to glorify heroin.  What he and Nels Cline do on guitars is as great as Verlaine and Lloyd, Moore and Renaldo, Hitchcock and Rew.  Sometimes the songs are pretty for pretty’s sake, and yeah, without Jay Bennett they’ve lost a certain edge.  No matter.  They’re a great band, and following hard on the spectacular Sky Blue Sky, Wilco (the album), delivers the goods.

Note, and plug for a friend: The great drummer — and great guy — Brendan Canty has filmed a wonderful documentary on Wilco entitled Ashes of American Flags.  Don’t wait for it to be available on — go buy it at the iTunes story.

Wilco Plays Gorgeously As The Sun Goes Down In The Tetons

Posted in Music with tags , , , on August 17, 2008 by johnbuckley100

Wilco was the headliner for the first day of the Jackson Hole Music Festival, and as paragliders drifted down from the top of Rendezvous Peak, smoke pouring theatrically from their shoes, the band, natch, played “Spiders(Kidsmoke).”  It was a glorious early evening in the Tetons.

Here, when Tweedy wore his LBJ Stetson, it seemed to make sense, the Sleeping Indian arrayed miles behind the stage.  “What do they call you people?  J-Holes?” he playfully asked the crowd.  But it was a different Jay the crowd was thinking of.  Since Son Volt is to play tomorrow, what were the odds of Tweedy and Jay Farrar playing together?  Based on the evidence, too high.  Maybe they’ll play together later tonight at the Mangy Moose.

For now, though, we had to settle for merely a great set, on a perfect evening where when the sun slipped down toward Idaho, the temperature drop was instantaneous.  Tweedy dedicated “California Stars” to Brian Wilson, who had played creditably in the slot before.  The songs off “Sky Blue Sky” were played note for note as they are on the record, but this is a band that can so well mix suppleness with power that such precision is a matter of honor, not rigidity.  “Walken,” “Hate It Here,” “Impossible Germany” all so great, you have to remember how the album was slagged by some when it came out — punishing Tweedy for going sober.  “Company on My Back” and “Handshake Drugs,” were sublime.  You get the sense that Tweedy is more relaxed having a virtuoso like Nels Cline throttle his guitar beside him.

It’s interesting.  One week ago, we went to Philadelphia to see Dylan and His Band at the Electric Factory, for the opportunity to see him play in an intimate setting.  We were looking forward to hearing the band in a club, not an arena, or even a minor league baseball park.  And of course, the sound system was terrible: if you weren’t dead center and fifty feet away, you may as well have been listening to a bootleg.  But here, outdoors, every note Wilco played reverberated clearly, and of course it would, in the alpine air.

Dedicated followers of Tulip Frenzy know that I have had some ambivalence about Wilco (  I admire them, but have detested the heroin chic of encouraging singalongs to the lyrics “there’s something in my veins, bloodier than blood.”  I find them riveting, though perhaps not exciting.  Ah, but tonight was something else. Slowly, surely, Wilco are winning me over, their greatness increasingly undeniable. Tonight they were magnificent.

Wilco At The 930 Club

Posted in Music with tags , , , on February 28, 2008 by johnbuckley100
  • Wilco’s not usually thought of as a ball of laughs, but they were loose and in fine fettle Tuesday at the 930 Club.  The core sextet was joined by a three-piece horn section, and of course the immediate reference point was The Band’s “Rock of Ages.”  If the “Mermaid Avenue” albums were as close we can get to channeling “The Basement Tapes,” then once again this is as close as we can get to a great Canadian-American amalgam playing those timeless bits of North American folk while headed by a Midwestern genius who genuinely loves Little Richard.
  • Nels Cline was gangly and exhibitionistic when he grabbed the strings in both hands and let loose some fine chaotic skronk, a mix of Robert Fripp and Tom Verlaine, but all in, for a noise-rock virtuoso, he sure seemed comfortable playing in a rock band.
  • Tweedy wore one of those LBJ Borsalinos, and seemed just the slightest bit on edge, calling a request for a louder amp “petty,” chiding the crowd — incorrectly as it turned out — for not knowing “SummerTeeth” well enough to sing along.  That said, he seems comfortable enough within his full body of work, with just enough — not too much, as in the Jay Bennett days — of a challenge from his bandmates, to settle in for what was both a greatest hits repertoire and some deep dives.  How cool was it for the band to play almost the whole first side of “Being There?”  And practically in order?  Way cool.  They even played the Dwight Twilley-esque “End of the Century,” which of course was amazing live.  I’d say the only album that got short shrift was “A Ghost Is Born,” but if that’s your craving, all you need to hear is “Handshake Drugs” and you’ve got your fix.
  • Wilco is a unique band.  Another way they’re comparable to the Dylan-Band collaboration is in terms of their historical perspective.  If you think about “Mermaid Avenue,” who else but Wilco (and Billy Bragg) would both have thought to put music to unscored Woody Guthrie lyrics, and then have done so in a fashion so of-the-age-appropriate?  They can delve into folk,, R&B, and yet more than any band other than the Drive By Truckers, play Southern-fried  harmony guitar like they’re Wet Willie or something.  It’s telling that they would, for example, record Gram Parson’s “One Hundred Years From Now” as pure Bachman-Turner Overdrive (another Yankee/Canuck collaboration); that “Walken” would take a page out of the Lowell George playbook.
  • As always, I was offended by the reference to hard drug use.  Isn’t there something really wrong about a sing-along to the words, “Maybe all I need is a shot in the arm,” followed by, “there’s something in my veins/bloodier than blood”?  I realize Tweedy’s in recovery, and singing your old songs, which make reference to drugs, isn’t like Eric Clapton getting sober and going out on a tour sponsored by a beer company.  No matter how it’s rationalized, if there was one kid who came to the show who thinks that it might now be cool to shoot up heroin, then something inexcusable has happened.
  • I found myself marveling at how much I enjoyed a band that at times can be so bland, so anodyne, and then punctures the moment with something incredibly raw and artful.  Live, they’ve always followed the Powell Doctrine of overwhelming force.  Tuesday night they also played with looseness and occasional delicacy.  When they feel like it, they really can truly overpower an audience, and all doubts. 
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