Wilco – September 28, 2010 – Divadlo Archa – Prague, Czech Republic

Before leaving the house to see Wilco, I played some of their tunes for Little NH while she finished up her M&M’s for dessert.  She’s a fan of “Wilco (the Song)” and was more than a little disappointed that she wasn’t going to get to see them in person.  I explained to her that the show would be too loud and it would go on way past her bed time.  She seemed to understand but took the opportunity to impart the following wisdom on her dad.  “Daddy,” she said, “If you hear something really loud, don’t get scared.  It’s just Rock ‘n Roll.”

How did my kid get to be so cool?  Anyhow, on to the show…

I’ve been a fan of Wilco ever since picking up A.M. at a used CD shop in college.  To me, they started out with the Replacements bar band ethic that I sorely missed after that band imploded.  Tweedy and a rotating band, save for John Stirratt, have gone through many styles since then.  The triptych of Being There, Summerteeth, and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot are as good of a run of albums as any band has ever had.   Their two most recent albums are listenable, but not quite as solid as these other efforts, to my ears at least.

But Tuesday night, Wilco put every style they have ever embraced into a seamless, fun, incredibly well-played set that clocked in over two hours.  The songs they played ran the gamut with John Stirratt’s “Just That Simple” plucked from A.M. as well as “Too Far Apart”.  The murder ballad, “Via Chicago” never sounded more disturbingly beautiful than on this night.  In fact, the Summerteeth songs sounded absolutely lush.  Much of this had to do with the quality of musicians on the stage.  Wilco has had the same lineup for two albums now and they have really figured out how to pull off the entire catalogue in a live setting.  Nels Cline added the necessary effects to the mix and wigged out on guitar when called for.  Glenn Kotche pounded the drums with mallets, sticks and brushes and really displayed why he is considered such a great drummer.

Jeff Tweedy glided through the songs effortlessly with his voice sounding younger than when I last saw Wilco six or eight years ago.  His delivery was perfect and his obvious good mood really helped propel the show.  Having seen him in some very bad moods at other shows in the past, it’s obvious that when Jeff’s happy, everybody’s happy.

Seeing these guys on stage, it’s obvious that they love their jobs.  It seems like there were about 50 different instruments on stage throughout the night.  Cool double neck guitars, vintage keyboards and road worn acoustic guitars that look awesome when the stage light hit them just right.  Of course, to hear Little NH explain it, it’s just Rock ‘n Roll.

Wilco (The Album) – Lightning Review

Wilco (The Album)
Wilco (The Album)

Ever since Wilco parted ways with Jay Bennett (RIP), it became the Jeff Tweedy show.  Collaboration gave way to Tweedy’s vision of Wilco.  For those of us interested in the more experimental side of Wilco, Tweedy’s vision fortunately (A Ghost Is Born) and unfortunately (Sky Blue Sky) reflected his outlook on the world.  Ghost was jumbled, sadly beautiful and taut, reflecting his inner turmoil, and Sky seemed like a latter day Beach Boys album without the input of Brian Wilson – not bad but languid, self-satisfied and dull.  I’m not wishing any artist troubles but have long thought that some of the best art is often born of turmoil, as a reflection of life.  With the obligatory introduction out of the way, we’ve arrived at Wilco (The Album).

I was worried this was going to be the Stephen Colbert album.  Smug, silly, smarmy.  It’s not, but it’s not Yankee Hotel Foxtrot either.  Somehow, it lies right between Sky Blue Sky and A Ghost is Born.  There is just enough edge in songs like “Bull Black Nova” to keep you interested only to be derailed by the mom-rock (?) of the Tweedy/Feist duet, “You and I” immediately after.  Who sequenced this thing, Elmo?  As a matter of fact, the first four songs threaten to make the album Wilco’s best only to somehow lose it’s way.  Maybe Tweedy’s maps were overthrown.

I find the album a frustrating experience.  Maybe there’s more there for me to dig into.  I listened to it several times on the drive through Spain in a rental car on winding roads, not on my headphones, so maybe I missed a level.  I just found myself happy to be at the end so I could pop in Gomez’s album and hear something truly great.  Who knows, that one was a grower was well.  Maybe I should just take comfort in the fact that Colbert is nowhere to be found and that Wilco loves you, baby.