Was in the back of the room for Wilco’s new Tiny Desk Concert…

So, it’s great to see the set up close. Summerteeth forever.

Another NPR Music winner for me recently: Morgane Stapleton and Chris Stapleton singing You Are My Sunshine, an Ann Powers pick for the Songs We Love series. A few weeks ago, I heard another cover of the song and thought I was doing with nearing new takes. I was wrong, happily.

Recent listening: Early Wilco, DJ Jazzy Jeff, Amanda Shires

1. Spent some time the other weekend cleaning up a drive and found a Wilco bootleg I’d downloaded a while back and somehow left unplayed. Turned out to be a killer early recording: 1996, Live at the Troubadour in Los Angeles, once distributed on cassette and now in digital glory, which is good for you, because you should go and download it right now.

2. Also discovered during that clean-up: DJ Jazzy Jeff and Mick Boogie’s Summertime Mixtape, which has since turned out to be an annual tradition, and which remains an amazing capture of the feelings of summer. Listen. Open your windows, open the doors and embrace the swelter around you.

3. Amanda Shires, Wasted and Rolling, at Austin’s KUTX (AAA public radio, my favorite), with husband Jason Isbell joining in, via No Depression.

4. Bonus: Via friend Adam, Lucinda Williams, playing the Stone Pony last week, covering Springsteen’s Factory, so well. I’ve blasting it before work. Neighbors, I’m sorry. But also not. You get to work your way, and I’ll…

Wilco morning always follows a Wilco evening

I have a policy of going to only one Wilco show per tour, and it has served me pretty well. The band is great, one of my favorite bands. The band is great live, one of everyone’s favorites at festivals and whatnot. But the band isn’t great at evolving shows over a tour. If you’ve seen them once on a  tour, you can largely imagine a show months later. The band makes some changes but not many.

That said, after I skipped the Wilco shows at Wolf Trap earlier this month, I questioned my policy. The band played an acoustic version of Spiders (Kidsmoke)? They played a rock version of Laminated Cat? Sure, They closed one night with Hoodoo Voodoo? The rest of the setlists didn’t rock my world, but those three caught the collector in me. I had never heard them played.

So, it was sure an excellent thing last night when the NPR Music broadcast from the Newport Folk Festival found the band playing all three. The big win turned out to be acoustic Spiders. I’d also liked the rock version, on record and live, and the lighter take was a quality psychic switch. NPR Music preserved the audio from the show here, with the song beginning at at 19:19 mark.

This morning saw a bunch of Wilco-playing around the apartment. The week had been exhausting with long hours at work and new meetings seemingly every half hour. This morning was a counterweight. Found the Spiders from last night. Found a cool mini-doc on Tweedy’s prep for a benefit show. Found, again, because it’s always watchable, Tweedy doing the WGN weather.

Found a decent video of acoustic Spiders in Paris. Found myself rereading the lyrics and remembering how angry and useful the song had been for me when it first came out. We appeared to go through our lives as people expected of us, but we saw and felt much more than what others expected us to share. I was 25 and felt trapped in copy-paste work. I was 25 and, as such, unable to express how I felt trapped or come up with much of a plan for how to get un-trapped. The song offered assurances. As long as a wisp of kidsmoke was present and you alone could see it wafting, we could all fool each other as we went about our lives and hold out hope for realness.

You could interpret the song more darkly. I never have.

I’m more than a few years from that 25-year-old now. Life has figured out or at least lessened concerns of expectation and expression. Angry songs aren’t as useful as they used to be. Wistful songs help more now. They’re an inducement against anger but also against wistfulness. As others knock off life events faster than I do, the songs remind one to keep faith in the long term.

In the video of Tweedy prepping for the benefit show, he starts singing a song I’ve never heard before. From Google, I learn it’s an Uncle Tupelo outtake called Wherever. “When you get back from wherever / Let me know what it’s like / And I’ll tell you, I’ll tell you / What it’s like to watch you go.” The song is simple and wistful. The song is young and petty but full of real worry.

A Wilco missing link

In my Wilco concert take on Monday, I mentioned the new Whole Love was possibly the optimistic flip side of the dark Ghost Is Born. A bonus track from the new one’s deluxe edition makes the point even better.

Listen to Speak into the Rose on this Tumblr or inside Spotify Premium. (I first heard it on regular Spotify when they left it outside the pay-wall for a day. A strategic move?) Not only is the song an instant contender for best Wilco song title ever, simultaneously evocative of noir novels, clown jokes and romance, but the sound is a pedal-down instrumental drive out of the wilderness, back from where Spiders (Kidsmoke) took us, from the woods to the highway, back to civilization, loud and clear.

Wilco and the art of almost a tour

Wilco has almost a tour but not yet. Last night’s show at Merriweather was terrific, don’t get me wrong. The Sunday night was beautiful under the pavilion’s hard-working Big Ass Fans, and going to any concert with hardcore music friend fans like Jim and Meghan could never go wrong. Friends Steve, Randy, Matthew, and Mary Beth were in the crowd, too, likely among many others who will surface today, and friend Mike and the NPR Music team were streaming the show live online. And after a fun and relaxed opening from Nick Lowe, Wilco gave a real good time.

But it’s always interesting to see a great band at the very beginning of a tour. After finishing the album, the band has enough time to practice the new stuff into submission and determine the basic frameworks for show setlist, pacing and mood. But that’s about all the band has time for. Doing some iterating on the framework? Giving it a good vetting? Tearing it up and starting over? No time. That’s what the tour is for.

So, the beginning of the show attacked us with the new album (and I like the new album a bunch, so that hit me well). The middle alternated between new stuff and older material that sought the same theme — the idea that love is confusing and messy but ultimately beautiful and so necessary: One Wing, Handshake Drugs, Box Full of Letters, and Via Chicago with all kinds of fucked-up, drum-heavy breakdowns. The end of show regressed into Being There mindlessness (awesome) rocking with Monday and Outtasite (Outta mind). We left smiling and feeling the beat, recalling different moments, early, middle and late. But centered? No. Which is a point about love the new album makes, that the center is elusive (an “almost”). But I don’t think the show intended as much.

Even when the middle sought thematic wins, the starting points for the songs were all over the map. The Times said the setlist approach was staking out broad territory, and I wouldn’t disagree. The growth of an empire, though — even an empire that loves you, baby — is awkward.

The natural antecedent of the new material is the Ghost Is Born album, but it’s a challenge to tie them together in concert. Where Whole Love  examines the conflict of love and finds a positive answer, Ghost studies the same and finds ugliness and a painkiller-addled migraine. We only saw the lighthearted moment from Ghost last night, with Handshake‘s sing-a-long rock. But if the band is going to truly build around its fresh proposition and nail the show, they need to go there, and we need to give them time. Wilco’s happiness comes easy these days, and the last couple tours have shown so. But this new material goes further, trying to explain this late happiness, and a two-hour explanation takes work.

So, the Tweedy quote but faster

Let’s go for that today.

The Clash, Tommy Gun, 1978:

Jeff Tweedy to the Montreal Gazette last week, via Casey:

I think you stay pretty open to what the shape of a song could be. Hopefully you’re going to be surprised and excited by what starts to emerge out of basically this raw material of chord progression and melody and lyrics. And I think if you’re not too married to steering the ship, if you just stay open to it, a really strong shape starts to emerge. And I guess in a band of six people, it’s kind of amazing that at some point we all start to see it. We all start to see simultaneously where this song is going and how it’s going to work. And then you just do your best to finish it – make it as good as it can be. But yeah, that song was like a collage or something. We worked on it off and on for several months. But I think fairly early on it took this shape that we just wanted to hone in on. I mean, I could use a really, really pretentious analogy, but I think it’s fitting: Inuit carvers pick up a piece of stone, and they start carving not knowing what animal is inside of it. And when they get to a certain point, it becomes obvious to them that, oh, they’re making a walrus, or this is a caribou or whatever. That’s kind of what I’m describing: you just get lost in the process, and eventually something starts to emerge. It’s like those Magic Eye posters. (Laughs)

Three videos: Jeff Tweedy covers the Black Eyed Peas

Yes. Not only does Dan Sinker get a great review from Northwestern English great Bill Savage in today’s Trib, but Rahm Emanuel attended his book-release party last night and — making part of Sinker’s fake Rahm narrative come true — Jeff Tweedy performed Black Eyed Peas songs. Three of them, at full length. Two were sung. One was read.

In seeming order (hat tip to Time Out Chicago)…

1. I Gotta Feeling.

2. Rock That Body.

3. My Humps.

To the tapers/posters of these videos, you are awesome.

Tweedy at one point says he hopes he can forget all these songs by the time the tour starts. As someone with tickets to an early date, let’s hear a full-band I Gotta Feeling. Got potential if you let Nels dig in…

Now, when will the Peas cover Wilco?

What you hear one day vs. the next

Outside my work these days, I’m mixed up as to which way is forward. The clarity I had last winter and spring has burned off this summer. I’d like to blame the sun or the earthquakes or the hurricanes, but I can’t offer much in the way of proof. All I can figure is my glasses are under a magazine somewhere, my compass lounged too near a magnet and my view fell on the wrong side of city building permits. I have faith the glasses will turn up, and I can search how to re-magnetize a compass. But the view part takes effort. In my daydreams, the new neighboring high-rise isn’t moving. Any obstructed blue or night skies are helpless.

So, to move, to go chasing those skies, I have to use what’s available. The real view from this apartment is a start. With the sun pushing into the bedroom blinds early, whatever happened the day before receives a challenge. Whatever I’ve missed the day before bestows a reminder. There is clarity somewhere, and I’ve been granted an hour’s loan. I’ve squandered everything from the day prior, but still the sun comes up.

If I was playing music in the haze and gloom, a replay comes next. The interpretation that seemed mannered and set falls apart at the bolts. I am always amazed at how quickly the collapse occurs. If yesterday the new Wilco album limned heartbreak’s cacophony with interspersed and misguided bouts of hope, today The Whole Love of the title makes more sense. The discordance is not from heartbreak but confusions, and you and I just arrive in the middle of things. Those sporadic hopes are real. I don’t have hard evidence, just the returns on the hour’s investment.

The album’s cover appears to be a dark Escher box stuffed with other Escher boxes, nearly machine-like in their interlockings, intimidating as either a maze or an engine. At the right times of day, in the right light, though, the puzzle looks almost solvable. Finish the maze or grasp the logic making completion impossible, get a spark, set the day to moving, past whatever blocks a view, onward to wherever love’s clarity hides.