Wilco's Official Website

By Brad East

WHEN: 1994-present

CULPRITS: Jeff Tweedy (vocals, guitar), John Stirratt (bass), Nels Cline (guitar), Pat Sansone (guitar/keyboard), Mikael Jorgensen (piano/keyboard), Glenn Kotche (drums) / Former members: Jay Bennett (guitar), Leroy Bach (guitar/keyboard), Max Johnston (multi-instrumentalist), Bob Egan (multi-instrumentalist), Ken Coomer (drums)

ALBUMS: A.M. (1995); Being There (1996); Mermaid Avenue (with Billy Bragg; 1998); Summerteeth (1999); Mermaid Avenue Vol. 2 (with Billy Bragg; 2000); Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2001); A Ghost is Born (2004); Kicking Television (live; 2006); Sky Blue Sky (2007); Wilco (The Album) (2009)

HOW: I think most people come to Wilco in a similar way: having always heard the name tossed around, finally deciding to buy an album, and suddenly realizing all they’ve missed — and the staggering wealth (in both senses of the word) of music simply sitting there, waiting to be discovered and enjoyed.  I also suspect that one’s first musical introduction to Wilco — that is, through which particular album’s uniquely articulated sound — colors the rest of the experience filling in the catalogue.  If chronological, the odyssey might make some sense; if in the middle, or random, it might be jarring but fascinating in a way; if at the end, then worked backwards, for many it would likely be depressing, like a slow unwinding devolution.

Regardless, my own journey began in September of 2004, when I decided, while perusing a Barnes & Noble in Austin with my then-girlfriend Katelin (now my wife), to buy a Wilco album with recently-received birthday money.  The music section had Being There, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, and A Ghost is Born, and while I had heard a good deal about YHF, I saw that BT was the earliest iteration available to me, so I went with that.  Over the next year I journeyed through the strange movements of YHF and AGIB, as well as the sunnier, more straightforward offerings of Summerteeth and Mermaid Avenue.  My slow-burning love culminated in seeing them live at Austin City Limits on the weekend of my 20th birthday, exactly a year after purchasing Being There; sandwiched, on a hot and dusty evening, between Arcade Fire and Coldplay.  It was the end of the courtship and the beginning of a happy romance.

WHY: I have no doubt other music lovers will be able to identify with the inarguable ridiculousness of choosing, or finding oneself in the position of feeling chosen by, a “favorite band.”  My utterly irrational, memorable moment was in the spring of 2007, sitting in my apartment bedroom with Katelin (then my fiancee), listening to the official pre-release online streaming of Sky Blue Sky for the umpteenth time, when out of nowhere I said, “Wilco is my favorite band.”  Life is made out of similarly unforgettable moments of utter insignificance, so while I don’t feel the need to apologize for it, I do realize how unalterably goofy it was.  But in the moment, it felt epochal, important; and even now, I think of Wilco as a sort of “favorite for life.”  Not an adolescent musical fling, not a short-lived band who’ll disband after a couple of hit singles and a drug habit; a real, adult, full-fledged group of incontestable artistic talent and swagger whose 15-year output, even if they were to break up tomorrow, would stand the test of time.

And I remember three months later, walking along a tributary of the Neva River in St. Petersberg, Russia, with two best friends, being asked out of the blue why I loved Wilco so much.  It was a good question: How do you put into concrete words what it is that makes you love the every-so-often, commercially-packaged musical creations of a certain (but often changing) group of strangers?

Part of it is just the “click” that comes when you have found symbiosis with music that is unexplainable and always grammatically enervating.  But part of it ought to be nameable: I like x and y sorts of musical qualities, and this band rather than that one has them in spades.  If I were to name it with one sentence for Wilco, it might go something like this: Wilco’s music embodies the diversified honesty of humanly lived life; all of its joys, its changes, its emotions, flush with peaks and valleys, with moments of transcendent profundity and quizzical mistakes, for better or worse, for the duration.  Of course, in Wilco’s case, this is concentrated in the singular personality of one Mr. Jeff Tweedy, the consummate frontman.  In various and sundry times either moody or playful, poetic or blunt, creative or stiff, adolescent or cranky, joyful or depressed, rocking out or mellowed out — the man cannot be pinned down, and as the center of the musical experiment called Wilco for 15 long years, his all-of-life-ness has been captured in album after album of sprawled-out emotion, obvious intelligence, earned wit, sincere yearning, unfettered passion, and tangible brilliance condensed into three- to five-minute melodic (or not) snapshots.

In other words, I love Wilco because I get Jeff Tweedy.  And I’ll be along for the ride until it crashes and burns, gives way to old age, or transforms into his original dream — being a music critic.

(This post is languishing in loquaciousness, but since it’s for the site’s official launch and for my favorite band, I think we’ll allow it.  I only want to add that one other essential reason I love Wilco so much is their live shows: I mentioned ACL in 2005, but the quintessential performance was one year later in Dallas.  Katelin and I were on the third row in a small venue, and we were treated to a 2-hour, 24-song, 2-encore performance that not only began with my favorite song (“Airline to Heaven“) but previewed three songs off the still-eight-months-away Sky Blue Sky.  If you are wondering if I heard the magnificent, soaring, immediately classic solo from “Impossible Germany” for the first time in person as my ears suffered permanent hearing loss from Nels Cline’s ecstatic guitar, and if you are wondering if it was as amazing as you are wondering, in both cases your suspicions would be correct.  Since then I got to see them at Voodoo Fest in New Orleans in 2007 and in Athens, Georgia, in 2009.  (If I saw them live annually for the rest of my life it would not be an unhappy arrangement.)

SONGS: The following mix — which I made about a month ago for a friend who’d never heard of Wilco, and whose repeated listens on my end served as the impetus for emailing my friend Patrick to see if he thought an entire website could be devoted to the idea of “an ideal introductory mix” — has proven to me that there is a coherence to the many versions of Wilco that we have witnessed over the years.  You’ll notice the only album apart from A.M. that doesn’t make the cut is A Ghost is Born, but that is only because those songs — so peculiar in both composition and production style — were refined and perfected on the road, and find their place through the live double-album Kicking Television.

Major holes include “Spiders (Kidsmoke)” (too long), “Kingpin” (better live than recorded), “At Least That’s What You Said” (if only for that violent solo), “Jesus, Etc.” (I’ve just never been as big a fan as others), much of the gooey pop rock from Summerteeth (of which “I’m Always in Love” is my personal favorite), “Walken” (which blared from the speakers as my wife and I walked beaming into our wedding reception), “Side With the Seeds” (potentially the “best” song on Sky Blue Sky, yet had to miss the cut for the sake of other favorites), and the perfection of Mermaid Avenue‘s “Walt Whitman’s Niece“, “Hoodoo Voodoo” and “Christ for President” (so many songs, too little space! Wait, why not change the rules to 160 minutes over two CDs for my favorite band…?).

A few notes on what made the cut: though not noted on the list, shave the last 30 seconds of static and applause off of the live version of “Handshake Drugs” to be able to burn it to CD on iTunes; the segue from “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart“, with its melancholy closing yelps of “I’m the man who loves you,” to the next song whose title that is, brings a smile to this Wilco fan’s face; and to include my wife in this account one last time, we were in fact presented and did in fact walk out of the church to the rock ‘n’ roll guitar licks of “I Got You (At the End of the Century)“.

Apart from that, let the music explain the rest. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have, and do, and plan to continue doing into the foreseeable future (even if, God forbid, I enjoy “dad rock” as a grandpa!).

LINK: Click on the list below to see the 80MFL iMix, where you can listen to samples, download what sounds good, or get the whole thing!

Click the list for our Wilco iMix

~ by Brad East on August 19, 2009.

5 Responses to “Wilco”

  1. “Break Your Heart” is worth every bit of the 7 minutes it takes up. And, love the quote at the bottom. It’s definitely one of those that stuck with me from the moment I first heard it.

  2. Glad you approve, Bret. Have you seen Chelsea Walls? Tweedy scored it, and one of the characters is an aspiring singer/songwriter. That line plays a weirdly crucial part of the film’s story. Highly recommend it.

  3. Aw man…I have totally grown up with Wilco. Loved this post 🙂

    Every pivotal moment in my life for the last 15yrs has a Wilco lyric attached to it.

  4. Thank you! I would now go on this blog every day!

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