Sunday, May 13, 2007

How To Fight Irrelevance

It would be so easy to write off Wilco.

"They're done!" you can shout. They've been done, you could say, ever since that one really wonderful album sorta took over the world for a year.

They've lost the spark, one could say. Hell, I've said it. I've had the pleasure(?) of seeing them a bunch of times at festivals over the last couple years, first at the Langerado festival in Sunrise, FL, where they seemed to be bored and excited to jump back on a plane and head back up to Chicago. Then I saw them in Chicago at Lollapalooza '06 and this time, I was bored. Little did I know, they were playing mostly stuff of their new album which I hadn't heard yet.

Sky Blue Sky comes out officially on Tuesday, May 15. It's been floating around the internet for the last few months and it's rightfully gathered a lot of attention. It's an amazing album. But you can't compare it to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. This is the concession those people who keep wanting to write them off need to make: This is a different band. This is not the band that spawned those huge indie/country anthems and ballads with their stirring string sections and electronic influences. This is not even the same band that struggled with those preconceptions while trying to find something new in 2005's A Ghost is Born.

On Sky Blue Sky, they sound more confident than ever before (yes, even more than Summerteeth!). But, like I said, it's a different band. In some ways, they've embraced more of the country influences that informs their music. In other ways, they've become a tighter, more cohesive, band. The additions of two new member seem to have allowed Wilco to find a new voice. In A Ghost is Born and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, they always seemed to be attempting "mainstream" or "crossover" appeal and approval. With this album, they've stopped reaching for the stars (they're already there) and shifted their focus to a barebones rock sound. A couple times on this record, they remind me of My Morning Jacket, which is definitely a good thing.

I'm lucky enough to say that I will see them again in the near future. I'm going to be attending the Austin City Limits festival in September and will see dozens (130?) great bands. And even though I've seen Wilco at a couple festivals and one kickass gig at the Warfield in San Fran long time ago, I can't help but be excited to see these indie-rock legends again.

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