This band are trying to break your heart.
Sometimes bands can be a victim of their own success in that they perform one thing so well they get labelled that way forever and their other qualities can become hidden. Wilco seem to be synonymous with the term alt.country and this only covers an inch of the majesty and range that Jeff Tweedy and co manage to conjure up. Their new live double CD 'Kicking Television' showcases the band's entire range and confirms their status as one of the world's greatest genre-spanning acts.
Ironically enough, 'Misunderstood' is the opening track and its bellowing vocals coupled with jabbing, stabbing guitars and wailing feedback sets the tone for a record that travels at a fair pace and covers a lot of the band's back catalogue.
The first CD is likely to be more favourable with casual listeners and features a run of at least 9 great songs in a row that highlight the melodic pull of the band and the way they manage to shape your emotions and feelings into a 3 or 4 minute song. 'I Am Trying To Break Your Heart' starts out with its off-kilter rhythms but quickly settles into doing what the title suggests it will and is still a song that is capable of catching the listener's breath, no matter how many times they have heard it. Later on, 'Jesus, etc' follows in the same pattern and even though this song was recorded in 2000, its lyrics and emotions made it a favourite with those trying to make sense of events in America the following year.
The weight is lightened by songs such as 'A Shot In The Arm' which is akin to the jangle pop of the Beatles and The Byrds and 'Handshake Drugs' which contains one of the best bass intros in a long, long time.
Given that there is no doubt that Wilco have the quality of songs, it's also good that the record highlights their live performance and the wit and stage presence of front man, Jeff Tweedy. As a vocalist, he can flit from an almost melodious whisper to a full impassioned yell and the band reciprocates in kind. With an extended live line-up, there is a lot of space and quietness that the band builds like an atmospheric cape around the songs and this helps in creating the sense of shock and awe when the drums and guitars kick in at full volume. And in between songs, Tweedy responds to crowd calls and instrument malfunctions with fine humour and snappy retorts, which belittle any of the health concerns that surrounded him, a few years back.
The second disc features more of the band's experimental and edgier moments but still catches them on fine form. The first few tracks are the calmer, more expected country-esque songs that may be expected from Wilco but this allows the band to draw breath before the wistfulness of 'Ashes of American Flags' and the downright pop genius of 'Heavy Metal Drummer.'
The main draw for the second disc is 'Spiders (Kidsmoke)' a song that astounded on the 'A Ghost Is Born' record and in its live reincarnation, further explores it Teutonic feel and metronome drumming. It's an incessant track that from the very moment it kicks in has the listener twitching away to its beat and when the guitar feedback hum and tinkly keyboard notes gives way to the key fills and riffs the bare bones of a song is transformed into a gnarling rock beast that defies classification or genre. This song is likely to enthral or confuse its listener but it deserves to be heard.
In lieu of a greatest hits package, this double disc perfectly showcases the might of a band that may not be known to all but is easily loved by those who do. If you have any interest at all in what a great rock band should be doing, this album should be given serious consideration.