Unlike New Order or Joy Division, I don't have nearly as much to say about Wilco. Which is a bit odd seeing as how I believe they're the best band in America today, a position they've held since R.E.M. lost drummer Bill Berry in 1997.
Part of this was the amazing guitar firepower the band had in the late Jay Bennett, responsible for much of the guitar "crunch" Wilco had from 1995-2001. Yet Bennett also caused the supremely talented guitarwork of founder/frontman Jeff Tweedy to become subsumed in the mix - an outcome Tweedy perhaps encouraged for a time, but at the eventual detriment to the growth of the band.
Tweedy, already extremely talented, began taking guitar lessons in the early part of the decade from Television maestro Richard Lloyd. So it was no surprise that after the trainwreck that was the making of their 2002 record Yankee Hotel Foxtrot had ended, Tweedy took the chance to start afresh. Re-establishing himself as frontman and taking control of the Wilco reins, Tweedy fired Bennett in late-summer 2001, then shortly after the tragedies of 9/11/01 took the band on the road as a 4-piece.
It's this arrangement of Wilco that we find ourselves enjoying in this latest installment on the blog. With ultradrummer Glenn Kotche on drums and percussion, John Stirratt on bass and harmonies, Leroy Bach on keyboards and additional guitar, and Jeff Tweedy on lead guitars and vocals, this incarnation of Wilco is neither the bombastic all-guitar-assault of the Jay Bennett era, and nor the studied technical brilliance of the band post-2004 (with the admittedly-brilliant Nels Cline taking over on lead guitar).
Rather, this period of Wilco I find fascinating for its frailty. Tweedy is obviously finding his place in the mix, there's no bombast to hide behind, and nobody in the band wants to step out and take control. The performances are obvious exercises in dynamics, with simple man-with-an-acoustic-guitar songs coalescing out of chaos and noise.
The roots of modern Wilco are in these performances. Tweedy's Television-esque guitar skronk (ref: the latter third of "Not For The Season") plays out here, a sound carried to fruition on Wilco's 2004 LP A Ghost Is Born - a confidence on his instrument that only emerged with Jay Bennett's dismissal. Furthermore, Tweedy's ongoing involvement with confidante Jim O'Rourke - in their collaboration Loose Fur (Tweedy/O'Rourke/Kotche), as well as O'Rourke's production efforts on the Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and Ghost LPs - is very much on display in the loose experimentation, weirdness and clarity of these performances.
I've chosen to feature the band's November 2, 2002 performance - in stunning, crystalline soundboard clarity, mastered for this presentation by your humble blogger - because of all the 2002-era Wilco soundboard recordings available (and there are many), very few are mixed well. Which is understandable - these recordings often take PA mixes meant for the hall, as evidenced by many with Stirratt's bass mixed so low as to be inconsequential (hall PA mixes for small-to-midsize venues often rely on the onstage bass amp to provide all the bass needed for the audience, therefore there is often little-to-no bass in the resulting hall PA mix used for a lot of soundboard recordings).
This performance is well-mixed (including Stirratt's bass), features a GREAT setlist, and it's perhaps my favorite recording of this band from this era. My only niggling complaint is that this was one of the nights they didn't perform "Spiders (kidsmoke)" - the song was in a continuous metamorphosis during this period, and it was performed completely different to that which features on the Ghost LP.
Lossless FLAC files here - split across multiple RAR files.
2 November 2002
Tampa Theatre, Tampa, Florida
01 intro ("Animals of Africa")
02 Hesitating Beauty
03 One By One
04 Sunken Treasure
05 Less Than You Think
06 I Am Trying To Break Your Heart
07 War On War
09 A Shot In The Arm
10 How To Fight Loneliness
11 Not For The Season
12 Jesus, etc.
13 (audience instructions for the next song)
14 Heavy Metal Drummer
15 I'm The Man Who Loves You
16 Poor Places
19 Far, Far Away
21 Outtasight (Outta Mind)
22 Red-Eyed and Blue
23 I Got You (At The End Of The Century)
24 California Stars (with Damon & Naomi from the opening act)