Saturday, April 25, 2009


Thursday, April 23, 2009

Rob writes:

A couple of buddies of mine here in Tupelo, Paul and Todd, who both have good taste in music, have been really talking up this band Wilco. Now, I've always known about Wilco, and I even saw them play at Mountain Aire Music Festival about 10 years ago. Back then, they were a relatively new band, playing rather straightforward alt-country - not exactly my cup of tea, but not bad. Singer Jeff Tweedy's heartfelt lyrics were good, but I wasn't really impressed with the singing or musicianship.

These days, Wilco is a whole new band...literally! Tweedy's pretty much replaced the entire band except bassist John Stirratt, and the Wilco sound has evolved significantly. Still based in the country-tinged alt-rock genre, Wilco's recent material features powerful, proggish sort of structures with intertwining electric guitar soundscapes that stimulate the mind and transcend definition. This heady guitar style comes mostly from Tweedy's fascination with the 70s early punk-rock band Television, a band I've also recently started to get into. Wilco's 2002 album "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" is considered their most defining album, and their most recent release "Sky Blue Sky" has some absolutely captivating material as well.

Guitar maestro Nels Cline (left) joined the band in 2004 and really heated up their sound, especially in concert.

Nels is an uncanny talent with an incredible range of style, and he had a notable solo career before joining Wilco. He played the San Francisco Bay Area regularly when I lived out there from 2000 to 2005, and I remember him blowing my mind when he played with Stephen Perkins in the excellent jazz-punk-improv band Banyan, on my 36th birthday. To see him with Wilco, pushing the boundaries with his angular, crafty leads, was a real treat.

So, what would a Wilco show be like? Well, in this particular case, they played the Lyric Theatre, which holds around 1400 people. Wilco's a seriously popular band these days, and they've even won a couple of Grammys, so needless to say, the show sold out the morning that tickets went on sale.

The result was a very crowded room with lots of people (especially college students) who seem to go to concerts for all the wrong reasons: drinking heavily and flirting. So, we were surrounded by drunken frat boys alternately whooping, hollering, and trying to put the moves on the numerous Mississippi sorority girls in their cute little dresses and high heels.

To make matters worse, the sound engineer didn't do such a good job, and the sound was pretty muddy. With a band like Wilco, you want to be able to clearly hear the vocals and lead guitar, and that just wasn't happening.

Despite these problems, we thought the band put on a great show, playing a mix of both older and newer songs (though nothing from their upcoming album to be released this summer). It seems that Wilco has a number of fan-favorite songs they play at just about every show, and "Impossible Germany" and "Handshake Drugs" got big receptions.

For the encore, they brought out the opening band, Hawk and a Hacksaw, to jam with them on a couple songs.

Hawk and a Hacksaw are an acoustic quartet from Albuquerque that play a folky style of Eastern European gypsy music. Their music was nice, but not as engaging as we would have liked, and they did not really try to connect their traditional style with any more modern forms of music.

A couple days later, an acquaintance of mine mentioned that her friend attended the Wilco show and said that "it sucked" and that "Tweedy needs to shut up and play". Wow. She was referring to two instances during the show when, between songs, Tweedy made comments admonishing certain members of the crowd for constantly chatting throughout the show...comments like "I know 90% of you are really into this, but I just don't get the other 10% that spend $30 on a sold out show to just talk at the bar."

Now, at the time, my crew (Todd, Paul and Bart) really appreciated the comments, since we were just trying to listen to the music, and a number of people were really getting on our nerves. And, in the past, I've been quick to rush to the defense of musicians who chastise audience members for disrespectful behavior. BUT...there's a fine line here. Comments like these are always bound to disappoint and even offend a segment of the audience, and I suppose a band like Wilco, with their Grammys and popularity, should have a level of professionalism where that's not necessary.

Or, should they?

Back to the main page