When the dust settled a few years back, and people finally stopped talking about the controversy that surrounded the much-delayed release of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Jeff Tweedy and Wilco had ultimately earned the artistic license to do whatever the fuck they wanted. As it turned out, they wanted to deconstruct the rock song even further than they had previously — a desire that manifested itself in A Ghost is Born, a sprawling, difficult record that got positive press from the get-go, but for me anyway, lacks any real staying power.
While all that was going on, though, even through all the lineup changes and the stylistic wandering, Wilco continued to do what they’d always done: tour. Their new double disc, Kicking Television, captures a slew of moments from their most recent marathon jaunt around the world, and it paints a picture of a band at the top of their game in pretty much every way imaginable.
The musicianship at play on tracks like ‘Muzzle of Bees’, ‘Hummingbird’, or even the extended freakouts of ‘Spiders (Kid Smoke)’ and ‘At Least That’s What You Said’ instantly serve as a reminder that — you know what? — the songs on Foxtrot seemed pretty fucking weird at first too. Nels Cline’s virtuoso guitar playing, while possibly too noodly for some tastes, breathes new life into songs from as far back as Being There, but shines brightest of all on ‘Via Chicago’ from Summerteeth, a record that always seemed to be calling out for either something less or something more. Tweedy’s performance is an exercise in brilliant subtlety as usual, and drummer Glenn Kotche continues to prove that he should probably be something more than the drummer in a silly rock band.
The catch, of course, is that Wilco is not a silly rock band. Just like everyone said in 2001, they’re one of the best rock bands ever: visionaries, thinkers, students and above all, performers.