It’s odd that a band like Wilco can generate so much buzz in the industry and among critics, yet remain a band with a small (but very dedicated) following. Despite some video rotation and buzz in 1994 on MTV, who sold Wilco in 1994 as an alternative-country act, they never really broke out. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is, in every measurable way, an extraordinary album. Yet, why can’t I stand to listen to it?
I think I have one thing in common with frontman Jeff Tweedy in that I enjoy intellectualizing music– of course, I do so with my big mouth and keyboard, and he actually does it. The most striking thing to me in the film, however, was hearing Wilco play some of the Foxtrot stuff live. How strange– On the album you’ve got these spare arrangements with tons of work put into tape loops, sound design and just plain NOISE. He articulates a desire, in making the album, to take completed songs, and turn them inside-out and deconstruct them. But, when playing live, the songs are reconstructed into more coherent compositions.
It might be tempting to suggest that the album is more a reflection of Tweedy’s work, while the live stuff is the result of the whole band. But having seen the film, it’s clear that every member of Wilco was integral to it’s recording, including Jay Bennett, who later gets kicked out of the band for basically being a pain in the ass. As a character, he’s both obnoxious and sympathetic.
I suppose when you take any experimental album on the road, (with the exception of maybe Kid A), you can’t capture it the same way in a live setting. And, to be honest, I am happy for it. I loved what I saw in the film’s performances, and I can’t wait to see them play live.