for some reason, I'm watching Wilco play "She's a Jar,"
but I'm thinking Oasis. You might remember those Mancunian
jokers from 1995 and (What's the Story) Morning Gloryprobably
the last time a UK record troubled your Hot 100. Anyway,
maybe it's the Beatle-esque chord sequence, but with every
imminent new release from the brothers' Gallagher comes
a recurring press statement. It goes along the lines of:
is the future of rock. Out Beatles. Out Zeppelin. In beats.
In samples. We're moonlighting with the Chemical Brothers.
It's the spirit of '67. It is now. We'll drag youscreaming,
kickingto the future."
translated, this means electronic sitars and backwards
guitar. (Ravi Shankar mustn't be returning calls at present.)
The spirit of '67, period. No risks and certainly no deviations
from the well-trodden formula. The band will headline
all the big outdoor festivals and the crowd will demand
(and get) all those big sing-a-long Britpop anthems to
take their minds off mortgages and middle-age spread.
Fast forward five years and no doubt we'll be talking
Bangladesh and moustaches. Another thirteen and original
guitarist Bonehead will take a bullet outside the Dakota.
knows the source of this conservatism? Is it driven by
the billionaire record company concerned about balance
sheets or the multi-millionaire rock band petrified of
losing fans? In either case, it's not a finger you can
point at Jeff Tweedy.
songs before his deviation into Summerteeth territory,
their 1999 should've-been-breakthrough LP, Wilco's head
honcho is lost picking the acoustic notes to "Radio Cure"
as random waves of keyboard static wash through the empty
spaces. It sounds nothing like the Paul Westerberg-isms
of their supposed alt-country peers. Next up and he's
crooning, "You have to lose/You have to learn how to die/If
you wanna be alive." He still hasn't muttered a word to
his audience. The gig is at least 30 minutes old.
songs come from Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Their now
infamous fourth album saw Wilco flushed out the back door
of Warner/Reprise for apparent nonconformity to the tune
of $50,000. Small change for a set of finished master
tapes. After streaming the songs from www.wilcoworld.net,
they revolved through the front door of Nonesuch Records,
another Warner subsidiary. It's now rightly recognized
as a minor masterpiece. Such is the state of the record
business in 2002.
God knows what Reprise were worried about. Probably the
involvement of avant garde production genius Jim O'Rourke,
but the official line was a lack of singleshardly
a prerequisite for a rock band these days. In any case
the tracks "Heavy Metal Drummer" and the aforementioned
"War on War" are receiving airplay in the UK and the US.
The notion that YHF was a Metal Machine Music,
or even a Kid A, is laughable.
fact, YHF is the antithesis of Kid Athat's
what makes it so great. While Radiohead build walls with
computers, Wilco sound lost in the machine. Rather than
an all-purveying glumness, Tweedy portrays a living, breathing
humanity on songs like "Poor Places" and "I Am Trying
To Break Your Heart," and humour too. His, for the most
part, is the lone voice of emotion in a stone cold corporate
world, the alienation of history unfolding on CNN. "They
cried all overseas and it makes no difference to me/When
it's hot in the poor places tonight/I'm not going outside."
A million times more relevant to 2002 than Ryan Adams'
Gold, YHF is rock's own version of "The
the Wilco we see tonight is a schizophrenic beast, caught
between the constraints of the past and the possibilities
of the future. Out on the peripheries one moment, playing
Woody Guthrie the next. And while the band can't be faulted,
especially new powerhouse drummer Glenn Kotche, there's
a disjointed absurdity to the proceedings, as if Bowie
resurrected the orange Ziggy frightwig during his Thin
White Duke period. Old cousin cowpoke just doesn't sit
right beside Tweedy's great leap forward.
not saying the likes of "Shot in the Arm" don't sound
tremendous. They do. It's just that the atmosphere never
truly soars. Played next to YHF the old songs sound
like a reversion to cliché.
also goes for all those big band endings to the rockier
Being There numbers and all those pointless guitar
solos. I guess it's Alternative Rock Performers' Prerogative
(see also: the cigarette lodged in top of fretboard) that
guitarists can intermittently pull out every indulgent
ounce of feedback when words fail. That's what we pay
our £12.50 and queue in the Tottenham Court Road rain
for. But when was the last time that was so exciting?
1986? Maybe watching four grown men play instruments and
that's it (actually, 137 bulbs did light up during
an encore of "California Stars") just isn't enough anymore.
All I know is, watching Tweedy in the spotlight howling,
"What was I thinking when I let go of you," with virtually
no accompaniment was a darn sight more intriguing.
then, Wilco in concert: a bit of a bird with a broken
wing. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is an important genius
record and may just be the best of 2002, but it's the
journey from here on that'll be interesting. Maybe Tweedy
should retire to the studio bunker and send us regular
transmissions from there. He certainly looks uncomfortable
fingers remain crossed until he gets both feet on the
Moon. We probably need Tweedy more than he needs us. If
YHF became a career aberrationtheir Satanic
Majesties Requestthat would be a loss for all