Tuesday, February 26, 2008

It's Just That Simple

At this point in time Wilco might be the best rock band in the world. To their adoring (and compulsive fans) they certainly can do no wrong. What better gift to their faithful followers than a 5 night run in a intimite venue where they promised to play all of their songs from their studio recordings, plus a few assorted rairites? And they delivered. I was lucky enough to see 2 of the 5 shows (tickets were gone in seconds). Fans waited for hours in sub-freezing temps to be at the front of the stage and first row balcony for the general admission shows. The band responded by sending out hot chocolate and coffee. The Riviera is a pit, but the sound was great, and good audience recordings can be found on-line. Wilco still has a large share of die-hard, respectful fans that can remain almost dead silent for the quiet acoustic numbers, although these days may be numbered as the band grows in popularity.

At 3 hours, 30+ songs each night, the shows were vaguely disguised as rehearsals for their current tour, but the band played with such precision and energy that one would never know. It was really exhilarating to hear the deep album cuts that you always hope a band will play instead of the expected crowd-pleasers. Wilco did both, and seemed to be having a lot of fun doing it. A Wilco show is a wild ride of hard energetic rock, quiet country tinged tunes, walls of feedback-drenched sound, superb musicianship and vocals, and animated stage presence, They are not to be missed when they play in your town.

Among the many highlights from the 2-16-08 show was It's Just That Simple, the only song with a lead vocal by bassist John Stirratt, and rarely played. The crowd reaction to this song, with a beaming Jeff Tweedy on bass, was hair-raising after it ended. Long overdue, said Tweedy, and indeed it was. Andrew Bird joined the band for much of the set, too.

The 2-19-08 show included a combination of Poor Places>Reservations>Spiders(Kidsmoke) near the end of the first set that was truly stunning. This show was simulcast on WXRT, and pretty easy to find on-line. At the end of the last show Tweedy remarked "Let's do this again next year." We can only hope.

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Monday, February 11, 2008

New Music 2008 - The Whigs

When I saw the Redwalls in a Chicago club last December a hard rocking band named the Whigs were on the bill as an opening act. We came in mid-set, and these guys were playing so loud it was a little hard for these middle-aged ears to process, but I liked what I heard. Their new album, Mission Control, just came out and it's the first thing that's really caught my ear in 2008. The Whigs sound is defined by tight playing, good melodies and harmonized vocals, but what really leaps out is some fantastic drumming. Hailing from Athens, GA, the Whigs evoke the intensity of Foo Fighters with a 90's alternative rock-pop feel, particularly bands like Buffalo Tom. I also hear strains of the Clash, but make no mistake, the Whigs are carving out their own sound, and I predict you will hear a lot about them in 2008.

"Right Hand On My Heart" from Late Night with David Letterman

Production City - from Mission Control


Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Silver and Gold

The last album I bought in 2007 was the first one I bought in 1987. I suppose I dwell on 'classic rock' a little too much here, and it's a little depressing that The Joshua Tree, at 20 years old, is now in the same category. Oddly, it was also the first CD I bought that sounded like crap. Like the other early U2 CDs (debut through Unforgettable Fire), the sound quality was muffled and lifeless, which is exactly why I bought this remastered version. The good news is that there's a dramatic improvement in the sound quality and a second disc of rarities that is an essential CD on it's own.

Arguably the greatest album of the 1980s, the Joshua Tree is one of three tremendous musical peaks in U2's work (the other two being Actung Baby and All That You Can't Leave Behind). If you have to choose one U2 album to take to that desert island, this has to be the one. The mere fact that there is an album's worth of unused music from this period is testament to this creative peak. The bonus tracks range from more experimental material to very strong compositions that could have easily fit on the album (the Joshua Tree clocks in at 50 minutes, part of its strength, in my opinion). I always liked the live take of Silver and Gold from the Rattle and Hum disc, and on this bonus disc, we get a studio version and the Sun City version, with Bono, Keith Richards and Ron Wood.

Silver and Gold (Studio)

Silver and Gold (Sun City)

More remastered U2 album releases are promised, and hopefully we will get an equal share of bonus tracks.



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