Posts Tagged ‘jeff tweedy.’

Wilco Will Love You, Baby

September 21, 2011 Leave a comment

“Take off your band-aid ’cause I don’t believe in touchdowns …” 

I’m not a music critic. I don’t pretend to be. I do, however, pretend to play the harmonica from time to time, and allegedly I can get pretty good after a couple of cocktails. (Granted, the witnesses are usually as drunk drunker than I am.) I’m the occasional karaoke singer, and I once (sort of) knew the chords to “Yellow Submarine.” Recently, my Spotify library has become the object of affection around my office and with my friends. (Elliot Smith and Faith Evans on the same playlist – who the fuck does this guy think he is?) You could say I’m knowledgeable when it comes to music – but I don’t actually know anything about it.

Which is why I’m not going to attempt to review the new Wilco CD. That would make me an asshole.

I was first introduced to Wilco a little over four years ago, which is about 14 years after their lead singer Jeff Tweedy’s first band, Uncle Tupelo, broke up and 13 years after their debut album, AM, was released;  I like to consider myself fashionably late when it comes to, um … life. I can’t say that I remember the first song I heard, and I would be lying if I said I had some immediate epiphany or emotional reaction to their music. In all likelihood, I probably thought to myself, “This is pretty good.” 

That being said, as more and more new (to me) Wilco songs invaded my iPod and, inevitably, my earbuds, pretty soon I started to take note of their specific tracks and, eventually, albums. It wasn’t the catchy tunes that caught my ear – Wilco’s songs, save for a few (“Shot in the Arm” and more recently “I’ll Fight”) are rarely arena-inspired crooners. Nope, it was the storytelling of Jeff Tweedy and his unique scratchy-whisper one moment, urgent yelling the next-style of singing that really drew me in. Well, that and my new girlfriend really liked them and, when it comes to new relationships, there’s always some homework to be done.

That being said, I’ve always veered toward classic American rock and folk music. After all, my old man is as big a Neil Young fan as anyone on the face of the planet (I say “as big” and not “the biggest” because I’ve ran into more than a few Cali kids that have father figures similarly obsessed with Mr. Young), and one of the first memories I have as a kid is sitting on the back porch listening to classic rock (WIZN, The Wizard Rocks!) as he quizzed me on who sang what.

“Quick, who does this one?”

“I don’t know … I’m five.”

“Wrong – Neil.”

Ever since then – and before I really had a chance – I’ve been a lyrics man. And as any Wilco fan knows, few musicians can make you laugh (and cry) quite like Jeff Tweedy.

Tweedy’s lyrics take me to highest highs and the most cavernous lows, frequently in the same song. My favorite Wilco songs help to recreate beautiful memories growing more faint by the day, all the while inspiring nostalgic-inducing smiles and the comforting and simple conclusion that “Everything has its plan, either way.”  The average Wilco song may not awaken this wide spectrum of deep inner-emotions in everyone, but given their passionate following and ever-increasing popularity, I know I’m not the only one that has (perhaps accidentally) put them on a pedestal with the likes of the best rock bands of all time.

My first live experience with Tweedy was about as unforgettable a concert that a music fan could ever hope to enjoy. Playing solo at a small club in my hometown of Burlington, Tweedy performed a collection of Woody Guthrie deep cuts, his own solo material and a few Wilco favorites. If not for Tweedy’s perfectly-tuned acoustic guitar and precise vocals, you could have heard a pin drop amidst  this sold out collection of hardcore fans hanging on his every word. No outside chatter, no pushing past the crowds mid-song to find a friend or grab a beer; this was as intimate a performance as your buddy busting out his old guitar at a campfire, minus the smoke and the marshmallows. Tweedy even cut his mic for the encore, singing “Sky Blue Sky” for stunned on-lookers in its truest form – just a dude with a guitar singing for a couple hundred of his best friends.

Shockingly, Tweedy as an electric rock frontman was even more endearing. Playing with his full band from the scenic pier of Portland, Maine, Tweedy busted out a humorous, confident persona I wasn’t aware of but was extremely proud to witness. For two-and-a-half hours, he once again had my full attention, and the result was one of the best live concerts I’ve ever seen. (Though the drunk guy behind me who unsuccessfully pushed for the band to play “Spiders” for 90 minutes straight might disagree.)

Yesterday, Wilco’s newest album, The Whole Love, became available on NPR for a free preview. After several listens, I can tell you that it’s really good. I can’t technically elaborate on why I think it’s good because, like I said, I’m not a music critic. (Even though I read a fuck-ton of Chuck Klosterman and have subscribed to Rolling Stone for years. It’s all about knowing your limitations, people.)

However, I can take a shot at explaining why I think it’s good. Because on this album and every album before it, Wilco and Tweedy, especially, take me back to a time when I felt good. Actually, more broadly specifically – Wilco’s music makes me feel; be it confident, afraid, nostalgic, idealistic, homesick, sad, uncertain, familiar, or love. When I listen to Wilco, I feel something.

Again, I’m no expert – but isn’t that exactly what music is supposed to do?