During a recent visit to Chicago, I discovered that the new Wilco album, The Whole Love, is on sale at Starbucks. It’s a confession, on my part, of a serious social misstep to even have entered a “Five Bucks,” but one I can blame on my significant other when visiting The Windy City. (Her role in most of my activities, by the way, is to suffer nobly on my behalf—just as all selfless Russian martyrs do.)
The reality of joining the ranks of somewhat soft, folky groups and singer-songwriters sold in the franchised environs of mass coffee fashion unfortunately reinforces the idea of Wilco becoming a “mom rock” band. Even though The Whole Love is mostly soft, and in my opinion not the most memorable Wilco album, it is reliable alt-country folkiness without most of the more experimental trippiness that I loved in A.M., Summer Teeth, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, and Sky Blue Sky.
My tepid view of this album is actually honorable, as I still count myself among the ranks of band and album lovers—not single song, ADD music consumers. Band loyalty is a badge I shall wear proudly, and that leads me to backtrack to the band’s 2009 album Wilco (The Album).
The irony and subtle humor of self-titling their ninth studio creation is typical of the group. As the band has previously noted, even the name “Wilco”—an Orwellian, militaristic conjugation meaning “will comply”— is not what one thinks of as being alt or indie by nature. This, of course, is only a small act of rebellion. But in these increasingly weird times, I will not abandon my aging hipster comrades over the occasional lapse into commercial blandness.
Wilco (The Album) has the group displaying, in an immediately accessible album, a synthesis of all the style varieties put forth throughout their career in what can be described as a gentle message to their existing fans of the need to lighten up and enjoy life. It, in effect, suggests that fans welcome new listeners to the world of music that Sheryl Crow’s lyrics express, “like a good beer buzz early in the morn,” or more profoundly, your esteemed messenger would describe as “lazy Sunday morning hangover sex.”
In other words, Wilco is always a reliable pleasure and must be listened to if you wish to age with grooviness as I intend to do.
If you are new to the world of Wilco, it is important to know that they are, first and foremost, a great live band often referred to having a “jam band-friendly audience.” This means that their concerts are long and their audiences intensely loyal with fans that can sing along with all the songs.
As far as I can tell, the difference between a jam band audience and a jam band-friendly audience is that the Wilco audience is not as heavily filled with tie dye, dreadlocks, and bandannas. A Wilco concert is like going to a family Fourth of July picnic and having a blast. Well, maybe if your family were made up hipsters, aging ‘90s indie rockers, techies, and music geeks.
Regardless of all of that, they’re one of my top ten bands to see live required to have the right to say that you’ve lived a hip life.
Photo by Bill Sluyter