Since forming in 1994, Wilco have amassed quite an impressive back catalogue of songs, spanning from their early country-rock exploits to the more expansive experimentation that inhabits their later records. This much was made clear during their recent gigs in Brussels (part of the current tour supporting their new album, The Whole Love) — two sold-out nights at the Ancienne Belgique (March 2-3) where the band performed two virtually different set lists, oscillating between newer material and the old.
The band have taken to opening their recent sets — as they did so on the first night in Brussels — with the 12-minute “One Sunday Morning (For Jane Smiley’s Boyfriend)”. Much as I found The Whole Love to be a middling affair — that said, each new Wilco album has never ceased to be a treasure of anticipation, at least for me personally — I marveled at how the band injected fresh zeal into the album’s standout tracks. The languorous melancholia of “One Sunday Morning” (“Something sad keeps moving, so I wandered around”); the Beatles-meet-Krautrock romp “Art of Almost”; the lacquered pop radiance of “Born Alone” and “The Whole Love”, all of which are unmistakably Wilco.
Not surprisingly, the band members cleaved to Nels Cline’s guitar-playing finesse for the more musically robust numbers such as “Impossible Germany” and “Bull Black Nova”. Or anyone game for an acoustic “Spiders (Kidsmoke)” to showcase their Dylanesque knack for transforming their songs onstage?
Experiencing Wilco live, I felt that the band’s best performances came down to the two songs they revisited from their 1999 album Summerteeth, “I’m Always In Love” and “A Shot in the Arm”. The whirling “I’m Always In Love” is classic escapism, all wrapped up in throbbing power pop exultation so insatiable that you can almost believe that Jeff was belting this out without a trace of irony.
“A Shot in the Arm” felt like something else altogether. One of only a handful of three or four songs that were reprised both nights, this bruised and bracing anthem tossed the band members into their frenzied best. In howling sonic terms, “A Shot in the Arm” captures how it feels to exist in a state of emotional flux, searching for the proverbial angry fix (“Something in my veins, bloodier than blood”). The song also speaks to me of a sense of renewal, of having the courage to look ahead with insouciance. What you once were isn’t what you wanna be anymore. – Keith.
The Whole Love is the first Wilco album released on their own label called dBpm Records. Find out more on their website.
Keith, our roving correspondent for the time being, has been hotel foxtrotting across Europe. He sends his regards from Cologne.