Wilco – Kicking Television – Live In Chicago

Kicking Television – Live In Chicago (2005)


1. Misunderstood 2. Company In My Back 3. The Late Greats 4. Hell Is Chrome 5. Handshake Drugs 6. I Am Trying To Break Your Heart 7. A Shot In The Arm 8. At Least That’s What You Said 9. Wishful Thinking 10. Jesus, Etc. 11. I’m The Man Who Loves You 12. Kicking Television 13. Via Chicago 14. Hummingbird 15. Muzzle Of Bees 16. One By One 17. Airline To Heaven 18. Radio Cure 19. Ashes Of American Flags 20. Heavy Metal Drummer 21. Poor Places 22. Spiders (Kidsmoke) 23. Comment (If All Men Are Truly Brothers)


It’s hard to find a really, really good live album these days. Everyone just releases DVDs now instead because that’s the modern thing to do. But even back in the 70s, when everyone who could play the guitar and had at least 12 smelly stoner fans was releasing a live double album, how many truly great ones were there? Live At Leeds? Ya Ya’s? And? And? (Don’t say Frampton Comes Alive or I will personally kick you in the balls). The truth is, the vast majority of live rock albums range somewhere from fairly enjoyable but decidedly mediocre to very, very bad. I actually think it’s good that bands release live DVDs now instead of LPs, because DVDs at least have the visual aspect, allowing you to get as close as is humanly possible to watching a concert in the comfort of your own living room. When you’re listening to a live album, you’re missing out on at least 50% percent of the concert presentation. So when the crowd starts cheering in the middle of a song for no apparent reason in response to something that happened onstage, for instance, you’re left feeling baffled and left out. Whenever I listen to a live album, I invariably feel like I’m only looking at half a painting. You can listen to a Rolling Stones concert and hear Mick Jagger slurring words and not bothering with the full melody and be like, “Meh, he’s OK, I guess.” But if you watch a Rolling Stones concert and actually see Mick doing his thing, your response will inevitably be, “Oh, I get it now!”

Accordingly, Kicking Television was originally intended to be a DVD, but the band was uninspired by the footage so they decided to turn it into an old fashioned live double LP like their name was Cheap Trick. And if the band was ever poised to make their big live blowout record, it was at this very point in their history. After Leroy Bach left the band shortly after the A Ghost Is Born sessions, Tweedy decided to not just replace him, but to completely renovate the Wilco machine by expanding the lineup to epic proportions. Joining Mikael Jorgensen in the new members corner were keyboardist/guitarist Pat Sansone and lead guitarist Nels Cline, one of the all around best guitar players working today. I have no idea how Tweedy managed to hook that up, but I can only imagine the optimism and joy that must have been surging through the Wilco fan base when he joined the fold – like, who needs Jay Bennett to experiment when you’ve got the world’s premier avant garde jazz guitarist in your band? He doesn’t disappoint, but on Kicking Television, he’s not the focal point. He’s above all reverent to the material and never turns his solo spots into wankfests; despite its spastic, wild nature, his playing is too inherently melodic for that. The truth is, nobody is the “star” in the new lineup; the focus is on the big band dynamic that can pass around the spotlight seamlessly and add some serious rock heft to material that never really had it before.

For all their new resources, most of the material here doesn’t undergo much real reinvention, with a couple of exceptions – squalls of screaming guitar kick a locked in “Handshake Drugs” into mach 4, while “Ashes Of American Flags” trades the whooshing atmospherics of the Yankee Hotel Foxtrot version for an extended Cline solo – really his only lengthy solo on the album. This approach is neither better nor worse than the original, and adds an interesting new dimension to the song. In addition, the version of “Via Chicago,” with its discordant interjections led mostly by Kotche, makes so much more sense to me than the Summerteeth version does. But mostly, the new lineup commits itself to simply beefing things up. 16 of these 23 tracks are culled from either Yankee Hotel Foxtrot or A Ghost Is Born, not exactly the band’s rockingest albums, so the results can be revelatory. The guitar army works up a storm on the coda of “Hell Is Chrome,” of all slow, boring songs; the title track, a Ghost-era B-side, is hard and fast enough to be punk rock; and “Spiders” is loosened up from its electronic drum loop-restrained studio incarnation to become a roof-shaking, anthemic jam. The older songs also undergo such rejuvenating treatment; the anguish of “A Shot In The Arm” is only intensified here, as is that of the opening “Misunderstood,” which proves that the song can maintain its power long after its relevancy to Wilco’s state of being has faded… Tweedy’s “Nothin’s” are so uncomfortably raw and hard-hitting that they just about bring the house down with sheer force.

Only very occasionally do they fall into the typical big band trap of too much comfort, like on “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart,” where all the seemingly random instrumental jigsaw pieces of the studio version are recreated seemingly note for note and tone for tone. That’s dangerous territory for a veteran band, but it doesn’t really feel like that happens too often, even if there are few real surprises (except for the closing “hey people, let’s all get together” soul cover of Charles Wright & the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band’s “Comment (If All Men Are Truly Brothers),” which features an unexpectedly impassioned vocal performance by Tweedy). But hey, rarely disrupting expectations is hardly a bad thing when those expectations were for the album to be 20+ Wilco songs played superbly by a ridiculously competent lineup that can do pretty much anything they want to. I’ll take that any day.

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