The radio was full of the usual “The Sound” and “The Beach” and whatnot, and none of them had a particularly good afternoon. But one station somehow played a studio Wilco song I’d never heard before: Glad It’s Over, apparently a Sky Blue Sky almost and later a contribution to the Heroes soundtrack. Found lyrics here and audio here (watch out for spyware). Should’ve been on the album, your mind’s been racin….
Only the singing part was expected. It wasn’t good for the anti-anxiety drug industry if this was how Jeff Tweedy functioned after purging himself of their products. We got the dancing during Hummingbird, the jokes throughout the night (macrame, Spinal Tap, the rate at which Wilco fans are getting old and dying, how to mail Wilco at “Wilco, Chicago”), and the singing was 25 songs, nine of them encores.
It was that kind of night Thursday at Merriweather, where Jess and I had a great time despite the cast of characters around us: Kissing Couple, Air Wilco Man, Treo Guy, Calestentics Girl, and the Wilco Conversationalist Trio (about Wilco, during Wilco). They treated the new material like bathroom breaks, but I thought it worked better than expected with Tweedy into the songs, selling them with conviction, and no Either Way, the album’s nonstarter. Shake It Off and Hate It Here, with the most action, probably fared the best.
But getting back to the nine encore songs, it was hard to figure if it was the crowd down front, the beautiful cool evening after the storms, Pat Sansone’s birthday (complete with a Zappa-like shirtless cake-presenting man), or what, but Tweedy clearly wanted to keep playing. First encore, easing into it: California Stars, Poor Places, Spiders (Kidsmoke). Second encore, unbelievable: Heavy Metal Drummer, The Late Greats, I’m Always in Love, Outtamind (Outtasite), I’m a Wheel. Third encore, as everyone in the upper bowl spun around in the aisles: What Light. Via Chicago has the full set and notes. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9.
After the Times had my attention yesterday morning, the Post won it back today.
First, in the Style section, William Booth gave the best-of-the-bunch telling of Ray Charles’ funeral service. Booth wrote his lede: “The only thing bad about the funeral for Ray Charles was that he died.”
Then Max Steele, age 82, wrote about his father for the Sunday magazine. Steel told of his father’s business falling apart in Florida in 1927, when he was just five or six, forcing the family to pack up.
In a few days we will roll up an expensive Turkish carpet, tie it on top of the Studebaker touring car and leave everything to the creditors. I want to ride on one of the fold-down opera seats but am heartbroken when my sisters beat me to them. He picks me up afterwards and says I can sit next to him as we drive home. 2004
In my career of teaching creative writing at the University of North Carolina I have seen that in student stories it is important to the young writer where the family sat in the car. To sit up front between parents is the prized place. To get the seat at the front passenger’s window is a rite of passage, a growing up.
His memory first got me thinking of Springsteen’s Used Cars. The father’s driving the car; the sister’s in the front seat with an ice cream cone; the ma’s “in the black seat, sittin’ all alone”; and the narrating boy’s nowhere to be found inside.
But then I got to thinking about the disc that’s been riding around with me the past couple days, Wilco’s debut A.M., and Passenger Side.
While the sad mooch had his complaints, having a rider in the passenger-side seat seems to me as much of a rite of passage as getting to sit in that seat years earlier. Or even learning how to drive. Me, I can take care of myself. Other people bring responsibility, for better or worse.
On the better side there, the comparson’s come easy. Melissa Ferrick’s Drive finds the right note, sexy with her “I’ll hold you up / and drive you all night” (not aimed at my gender, but stirring an alliance as such) in a way that John Mayer gets more acclaim for but fails to understand on Your Body Is a Wonderland (“I’ll never let your head hit the bed / without my hand behind it”).
The other side, the worse side, is the more complicated one. Metaphor on that side is avoidance to some extent. In the Springsteen catalog, the struggle for optimism’s so much that even the beautifully reckless hope of Thunder Road can turn to broken dreams in Racing in the Street and giving up in The Promise.
All deal with the More Love dictum of rock ‘n’ soul, saying, “We are here, and I am going to take you there.” Not “but I am going to take you there,” because there’s probably a pretty good reason — most human ones are — that you’re starting where you are.
Heavy, yes, if you consider going to be a difficult act. Some days it’s easier done and others easier said.
In the easier done times, one song to play is a cover I can’t seem to get out of my head this week, Elvis’ turbocharged version of The Promised Land. That’s the song Tommy Lee Jones jams in the eight-track in Men in Black, right before Jones hits the Holland Tunnel and floors it on the ceiling.
For more extended rides on the Wilco Wagon, enjoy Newtcase’s Wilco Week (much deserved — I pre-ordered an hour ago) and Whitney Matheson’s USATODAY.com Hip Clicks take on the band’s recent D.C. show (scroll a third of the way down the page). The Washington Times also has a review; the absent Post may still be looking for the club.
Related Wilco posts:
-June 7, 2004 – What are summer teeth?
-April 7, 2004 – Early Ghost thoughts
-Nov. 11, 2003 – What’s a radio cure?
-May 2, 2002 – Riv A&O Ball review
Hadn’t heard Wilco’s A.M. in a while, so that disc made the drives with me today. Strangely enough, the song in my head most of the way there and back was The Lonely 1, which wasn’t on that album but the one after. No loneliness at fault, the acoustic chords just sounded familiar. But reading that Jeff Tweedy last night closed his first show back with the song, that was interesting.
(Metromix and Chicagotribune.com are experiencing technical difficulties at the time of this posting. Hopefully they’ll be resolved soon.)
Wilco began streaming A Ghost Is Born on the Web today. I spent the afternoon listening, giving the new album more ears than I should have if I wanted to get anything else done. But I didn’t.
After one-and-a-half times through, I love the disc. The roll and kick of At Least That’s What You Said open the work perfectly in character for the band. The following tracks drive and detour in steady but challenging fashion, with a harder edge up front evolving into naturally softer explanation. Choking guitars become juts of piano and then drone.
I’ll be interested to read others’ reactions, especially to the sequenced drifts of the latter songs. From a Walden broken heart on Company in My Back to the outward and inward warnings of I’m a Wheel and Theologians to the SETI-stolen Less Than You Think, what question does the subsequent and closing Late Greats answer?
For me, the gem of the album is Muzzle of Bees. Starting the disc’s midsection, the song draws hopes. It makes me imagine Lake Michigan on a late spring day — captured in time-lapse photographs but lived in long seconds. The song’s fills and gaps seem light enough.
Saw Wilco last night at NU’s spring concert. The opener was Elliott Smith, the sensitive singer/songwriter who apparently has a drug and numbness problem. Enough of the other usual sources will write about this better than I: Ellen – The Daily. (Other links to follow.)
My theory is that Wilco messes with him every time he falls asleep on the plane ride. The boys sneak back to Smith’s coach seat, whispering. “Jeff, he’s gonna wake up!” “Shhh! Shut up, no he’s not.” Then Tweedy sticks Smith’s fingers in the cup of ice water, and they run back to the front of the plane, giggling. (Again in the safety of first class, they realize that cup of ice sounded really cool. Upon landing, they locate the nearest refridgerator and set up the four-track in the freezer. MP3s are available within hours.)
But, for all their infernal meddling with the sonic nature of the universe, Wilco had a spirit last night. Not had spirit — the most pathetic musician has spirit. Wilco had a spirit — a driving kernel sitting somewhere in the back of each of their minds, a body-transcendent rock image of themselves and nobody else.
They have reached a point where Wilco’s biggest influence is Wilco, and the stage, while still high and wide, never seems to realize how empty it really is. There were only four guys up there. Confidence does so much for rock, but confidence in awareness can do so much more.