Monday, November 1, 2004

The Difference Between Red and Blue

artistic License gives one a lot of Freedom since by its very Nature there aren't a lot of Rules and the One rule of expressing something can be done on a variety of platforms without anyone saying anything like you can't do that like painting a picture where everything Blue turns red just like writing without heeding the normal punctuation and Grammatical rules that everyone expects and just like Music where the conventional pop song structure is tinkered and played with and made new or attempted to make new in an apparent attempt to create art by not only in what is being expressed but also in how it is being Expressed! and can only be topped by the auburn haired underestimated media friendly beauty who knows the only thing worse than working a 90 hour week is working an hundred hour one...

And for me that's why I've long had a problem with Wilco's music. I thought Being There was great but that was back in the days where everyone thought the group was going to assume the crown of alt-country conquerors from groups like Uncle Tupelo or Son Volt or the Jayhawks. Then Summerteeth came out and I can count on one hand I've listened to that disc from start to end. Strong songwriting gave way to studio trickery and noodling as singer/songwriter Jeff Tweedy's penchant for self absorbed, moody, and too clever by a half wannabe poetry became more annoying than inspiring. There's something about the second song on that disc, "She's a Jar" juxtaposed with song three's, "A Shot in the Arm" that just has always rubbed me the wrong way. What does it mean (and do I care?) that she's a jar with a heavy lid? And the line "The ashtray says you were up all night"- I can just see Tweedy thinking he had come up with something clever the masses would either eat up or idolize him for singing such profound metaphors.

The story of how the group's record label refused to release Wilco's Yankee Foxtrot Hotel because the label thought the disc wasn't commercial enough has been well documented. That disc has grown on me a lot- the feedback, the noise, and other studio enhancements that I originally took as a way to cover up weak songwriting now seem a bit intriguing.

And even more so after seeing Wilco's Tuesday show at the Orpheum. Ironically it was the night that Yankee Foxtrot Hotel turned gold (500,000 units sold!). The show featured most of the songs from that disc as well as the group's brand new CD A Ghost is Born.

I'm not sure the new CD will ever grow on me as much. The constant droning of the electronic doodling demonstrates that the group unfortunately somehow wants to be more like Radiohead than Woody Guthrie. But somehow the new songs came alive performed live. It was amazing to try and figure out how the band was recreating some of the screeching and gurgling sounds of the CD on stage. One of the absolute highlights of a well paced show was the overly long song "Spiders (Kidsmoke)" that has a lot of stuff going on that brings to mind Lou Reed's pile of crap LP, Metal Machine Music yet amongst all the rhythmic electronic noise came the cathartic release of the band pounding out notes together and it was quite the head boppin experience.

What really won me over however was two songs from the aforementioned Summerteeth where the intensity of Tweedy's vocals was dutifully enhanced by the cacophony of sound the rest of the band produced- the truly prophetic (and sad) "I'm Always in Love" and the scary "A Shot in the Arm" where the singer says maybe all he needs is a shot in the arm, something in his veins bloodier than blood. Egads, I bopped, a drug song transformed into a I know there is something wrong inside of me that even you can't fix- song.

Throughout the show images were projected on to a big screen behind the band like when they broke into the impossible to dislike "Hummingbird" a fluttering shot of the bird was displayed as Tweedy sang the wonderfully inspired lines, "His goal in life was to be an echo..." and "She appears in his dreams..." And what I didn't understand lying in my newly constructed upper wing of my house listening to A Ghost is Born for the first time I now got. You gots to accept the entire package for what it is- accept the warts with the intoxicating scents just like the line from the Yankee Foxtrot Hotel song "War on War" (another highlight from the show) sez, "You've have to learn how to die if you wanna wanna be alive..."

And though the guy seated behind the blue-eyed intern and I in our very near the stage seats, the one who kept yelling "This is the best f*&king show I've ever been to" and who booed when Tweedy told us we had to vote against Bush, may not have been contemplating the meaning behind it all like I was, he sure got something right- Wilco's performance was pretty darn impressive throughout.

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