Monday, November 21, 2005

Play Or Nay

Wilco - Kicking Television: Live In Chicago (Nonesuch)

The live album has a strange relationship with an artist's career. In some cases, the live album comes across to some fans and critics as filler in between albums to buy time until a new album of material is ready for release. If lucky, the live album captures the real essence of the artist on stage that studio albums have failed to do. It becomes a document of a time and place where the audience and the artist create an atmosphere so unique that it's almost impossible to argue that something magical took place. Cheap Trick at the Budokan (1978), The Who at Leeds University (1970), The Rolling Stones at Madison Square Garden (1969): these are just some of the moments where the spirit of rock and roll shined brightest, thought to be some of the greatest live albums in the history of rock music.

But a funny thing happens when the live album becomes a commercial success. Suddenly, the artist is left to wonder whether or not the public considers the live material better than the studio material. For Peter Frampton and Cheap Trick, their respective live albums out sold their studio albums by huge numbers becoming the highest selling albums of their careers. It then becomes a case of creative suicide when the artist is trying to live up to what the public loved so much about their live album rather than making the music that the artist wants to make.

So, why a live album now at this point of Wilco's career, especially when they are a taper friendly band? Well, to Jeff Tweedy's ears, this is the best incarnation of Wilco to take the stage during its ten year career. What was once 3/5 of Uncle Tupelo is now a band that has gone through some shuffles (most importantly in the past 5 years with the exits of Ken Coomer, Leroy Bach and Jay Bennett), leaving fans to wonder how long the new guys will be around. But with each change came a new piece that expanded the puzzle that is Wilco. Are they just your ordinary American rock band? Are they alt-country? Are they sonic wizards looking beyond your basic guitar chords? It can be said they are all of that and more.

Over four nights in May, Wilco took up residence at the Vic Theatre in Chicago. It was to be a two sided project: recording for a live album and filming for a concert DVD. Sam Jones, director of the Wilco film I Am Trying To Break Your Heart (2003), was once again working with the band for this concert DVD. Unfortunately for Jones and Wilco, the footage shot at these concerts wasn't deemed satisfactory for release. So, one out of two isn't all that bad.

Kicking Television presents a band that has been on tour for over a year and that has found a common musical connection. The album also marks an anniversary of sorts. These shows recorded at the Vic Theatre come very close to the date when new members Nels Cline and Pat Sansone debuted with the band on stage at Otto's in DeKalb, IL (May 19, 2004). It was also at that same show where Jeff Tweedy returned to Wilco after having gone through rehab earlier in March to solve issues with his self-medication for panic attacks and migraines. When listening to Kicking Television it's amazing to think that this band nearly came to an end.

Starting with the well-textured "Misunderstood" from 1996's Being There, Wilco marches on to focus more on its two most recent albums, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002) and A Ghost Is Born (2004), while offering the rare treat from its backlog (the band doesn't lay a finger on its first album, 1995's A.M.). What certainly comes to the forefront with these concerts is how integral texture is to the band's sound and how it has blossomed. Songs like "I Am Trying To Break Your Heart" and "Shot In The Arm" transform into orchestral rock masterpieces. The steady stomp of "Spiders (Kidsmoke)" is now a mammoth guitar fest between Tweedy and Cline, hammered even harder by drummer Glenn Kotche. Wilco revists Woody Guthrie and the Mermaid Avenue projects with the elegant "One By One" and the rally call of "Airline To Heaven." Tweedy reveals more of a frontman persona to himself, even teasing some fans in good humor for driving from Kansas City to Chicago for a Wilco show. Throughout the two disc album Wilco doesn't miss a step. They mesmerize the mind with renditions of "Via Chicago" and "Hell Is Chrome," and they ring the ears with rockers like "I'm The Man Who Loves You" and "Kicking Television." It's obvious that the cameramen roaming the stage do not hamper the band's performance or alter the crowd's response to the songs. It's one thing to have a captive audience, but it's other thing to have a film crew looking over your shoulder or going for the close-up during your guitar solo.

Different setlists were performed at each sold-out show, and the band worked off a master list of over 50 songs (including cover songs). To the general public that hasn't experienced a Wilco concert, Kicking Television provides a good introduction to the band on stage, but, to some hardcore fans that probably have the entire 2004-2005 tour on bootlegs, this is just an added bonus to file next to their copy some Wilco show from 1997. The lack of deeper album cuts from the pre-Yankee Hotel Foxtrot era holds Kicking Television back from giving the listener a full scope of Wilco and how far they've come in ten years. For their first official live album, Wilco does a good job catching lightning in a jar (they had four nights to do so), but there's a sense of something missing that surrounds the album; it's almost as if the listener is being given half the story.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Extra! Extra!

To The Readers Of Getting In Tune,

I have created a new e-mail account specifically for this site to provide a more direct experience between myself and readers beyond just the "Comments" link. If you wish to contact me regarding articles on this site or anything else, click on the "View My Complete Profile" link.

Thank you for reading Getting In Tune. I look forward to the feedback, both good and bad.

Stay Young,

Chris Castaneda

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Extra! Extra!

"Sound Opinions" has departed from WXRT (93.1-FM). The following statement was released on November 2 to the show's website and newsletter subscribers. The final show of "Sound Opinions" with Greg Kot of the Chicago Tribune and Jim DeRogatis of the Chicago Sun-Times aired on November 1.

To our "Sound Opinions" Listeners:

After 354 shows on WXRT (93.1-FM), “Sound Opinions” will be moving on Dec. 3 to a new home on Chicago Public Radio (91.5-FM). Basically, we got an offer that is too good to refuse: a bigger budget for production, staff and our Web site, an amazing facility for conducting interviews and recording live music performances, and the opportunity to reach a national audience with streaming audio, podcasting and syndication. We are excited about the prospects of taking “the world’s only rock ’n’ roll talk show” to a whole new level and a new and larger audience, and we hope you will continue to join us every week. Details about our new Saturday time slot and repeat airings, among other things, will be announced soon, but in the mean time, we would like to thank everyone at WXRT for their support and encouragement over the last seven years; the “Sound Opinions” team—Matt Spiegel, Shawn Campbell, Jason Saldanha, Robin Linn, and all of our interns past and present—for all of their hard work; and most of all you, the listener.


Jim and Greg