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Monday, March 5, 2012

On Hearing Wilco Live

The first time I heard the group Wilco was when I, by some conincidence, stumbled on a cd they made together with Billy Bragg. At the time I had heard a bit of and about Billy Bragg, the leftist English singer-songwriter, but I had never heard of Wilco. They did a project together in which they put lyrics from the heritage of Woody Guthrie to music. Guthrie's legacy contains a lot of lyrics-without-music, and with consent of the family Bragg and Wilco recorded a cd with Guthrie put to music by themselves. I loved the cd (Mermaid Avenue) basically because Wilco is so great on it - I don't like Bragg's voice too much, but Jeff Tweedy, Wilco's singer, has one of the best voices I know.

So I became a fan of Wilco - of Tweedy's voice - and bought at some point one of their cd's, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, and recently their newest cd, The Whole Love. It is hard to describe their music; it is essentially American roots music, Americana, but quite loud at times and sometimes rather experimental. But through all that you keep hearing basically Jeff Tweedy singing his songs.


About one and a half years ago I had the opportunity to see Wilco live for the first time. They were the headline band of the great Take Root-festival in Groningen. But while they played a great concert in the main hall, the Dave Rawlings Machine featuring Gillian Welch played one of the smaller concert halls in the building, and although the choice was hard I went to see Dave Rawlings. I never regretted it; since that night Rawlings is one of my most admired musicians, and the concert they played is firmly on 1 in my personal top 10 of best concerts ever heard.

But there is a new number two, and that is the concert I heard by Wilco last week in that same Groningen. Right from the first seconds of the first song, I knew this would be a great night. The amplification was excellent, Tweedy's voice coming through crystal clear, and the first song was a very silent one, quite a gamble to start with but it worked. The audience was mesmerized and that atmosphere never left during the concert which lasted for over two hours; it was wild and loud at times and quiet occasionally, the solo guitarist completely freaked out at points, the other guiatrist/pianist/percussionist did a less freaky but certainly great job, and in the middle of it all was Tweedy's voice, unimitable and very personal.

The concert got five stars out of five in the review in the regional newspaper. The reviewer was completely right.

And here I have to add: "according to me". In a way a senseless addition - I write this blog, so the chance that what I write is "according to me" is about 100%. But when it comes to musical taste, there is no way in which you can convince other people of the beauty of something, that is something I know for sure after thirty in-depth interviews with a bewildering variety of ordinary music listeners. Yes, you can formulate your arguments. But they never reach the feeling behind it - reason why people always speak in metaphors when they try to explain what music does for them, with them. Mostly material metaphors, and often connected to the body: "it touched me",  "it completely entered me", "it gave me goosebumps", "I was completely knocked out".

But why all that touching, entering, goosebumping and out-knocking is connected to specifically thát music is something pepole can never really put to words. So I won't try to explain. Listen and like it, or not; that's basically all that can be done with music. Try Wilco.

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