Review Summary: The rare live album that truly transcends a bands studio recording, this is a fantastic record that really shows Wilco in their element.
Live albums can be, and usually are, a very tough product to create. No matter how good an artists intentions when attempting to recreate a concert-goer's experience or provide a taste of what the band sounds like live, there’s no denying the amount of times the listener has to stop the CD and think "that twenty minute drum solo might have sounded cool if I was there, but now...?" This is, of course, why artist create concert films, home videos, and now DVDs. And while watching your favorite band kick out the jams on your TV screen may not come close to actually being there, it can still be pretty damn fun. And despite all the misgivings people can have about live albums, they can
be incredibly good. Artists all over the map have produced phenomenal live alums: The Who's Live at Leeds
, The Allman Brothers' At Fillmore East
, Iron Maiden's Live After Death
, or The Roots' The Roots Come Alive
. These albums are all so good because they transcend their original studio counterparts; whether it be because the listener really feels the energy of a live concert or because the songs finally take their proper shape on stage. So when it finally came time for indie legends Wilco to record a live album, I was a bit perplexed.
Fronted and, for the most part, directed by Jeff Tweedy, a scraggly haired guy with an off key voice, Wilco have fused post millennium Radiohead-style atonal noise with heart on your sleeve, earnest world weary songwriting. Sounds like a contradiction in terms, but in fact it’s a match made in heaven (at least to Wilco’s ever growing fanbase.) Coming from seminal alt. country band Uncle Tupelo, Jeff Tweedy has a good education in country rock, and he showed it to the world with early Wilco releases like A.M.
and Being There
, but he really found his voice when he recorded Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
. A truly great record, Foxtrot
gave Wilco a whole new group of fans (so many, that the album broke through the 20s on the charts,) and a whole new musical direction. But in the middle of all this success, Wilco seemed to be coming out at the seams. Key member Jay Bennet left and so did Guitarist Leroy Bach soon after. But Tweedy found himself a bizarre, but wonderful lineup. Joining longtime rhythm section of John Stirrat (bass) and Glenn Kotche (drums) were keyboardists and noisemakers Pat Samsone and Mike Jorgensen and, of all people, celebrated free jazz guitarist Nels Cline, a man over a decade Tweedy’s senior. Jeff Tweedy has, in numerous interviews, stated that this is the definitive lineup of Wilco, and that its here to stay, and listening to this album I can only say he’s no doubt write on the first count and I’ve got my fingers crossed on the second.
Culled from a four night stand at the Vic Theatre in the band hometown of Chicago, Television’s
setlist will no doubt delight any fan of the groups modern work. Kicking off with the classic Being There
, its immediately easy to see that this will be a great album. The song itself doesn’t sound all that different from the studio version, but there’s just an extra bit of…something that it has, and its not just Jeff Tweedy shouting “nothing” 36 times. And while Misunderstood
may not be that different from its studio, counterpart, many of the songs on here benefit from fleshed out arrangements and angrier, nosier codas. Hell is Chrome
sounds miles ahead of the already great original. The concert fav Jesus Etc.
is wonderful as well, with its strings replaced by mournful organ and weepy slide. Via Chicago
sounds absolutely beautiful, and the Neil Young-esque guitar histrionics of I’m the Man Who Loves You
are let loose with joyous abandon by Tweedy and Cline as the song bounces along. In fact, the entire lineup really seems to have clicked perfectly. The presence two keyboardists may sound pretty pretentious, but it works beautifully; how else could they have kept the in studio noise with the more straight forward piano arrangements of songs like their signature I Am Trying to Break Your Heart
or the unforgettable Ashes of American Flags
? Sure, their spry pop songs like The Late Greats
and Heavy Metal Drummer
may not have the exact same bounce of their originals, but the energy they’re infused with more than make up for it.
Besides a great setlist and a perfectly in sync lineup there a other reasons why any Wilco fan should buy this. For one, there’s a previously unreleased song Kicking Television
, a catchy all out rock song that sounds like it was written for a live audience. I’m sure I’m not the only one who heard Nels Cline for the first time on this album, and then went on to discover his extensive body of work. Honestly, though, all you can say about this is that it’s a really, really good piece of music, maybe Wilco’s best. And for a live album, that’s saying something. I’d tell the reader to go buy this right now, but I’m a Wilco fanboy, what do I know?