Jeff Tweedy – Together At Last

So much of what makes an album merely good rather than great is how well it captures the presence of the musicians and the energy of the room. This record feels like it could have elevated to great with a more vibrant setting.

A big part of Wilco and Tweedy’s charm is the rapport he builds with a crowd, especially in the more intimate settings. This record feels like only part of the story is being told. Recorded with just Tweedy, his acoustic guitar, harmonica, and the occasional smattering of electric guitar, it doesn’t have the same immediacy of the solo Jeff Tweedy I have heard in the past.

This record feels like it has been recorded to be played in the background. It eschews all the details and nuance that make the songs work as acoustic numbers. I’ve heard many different bootlegs and “I am Trying to Break Your Heart”  with just his voice, an acoustic guitar and the energy of the audience is every bit as compelling as the studio version. He paints with fewer strokes on these recordings, which makes me think it’d be a good one to hear in a room rather than through headphones.

Together At Last is good, don’t get me wrong. Tweedy has that ability to be utterly captivating with just an acoustic guitar. The electric guitar at the end of “In A Future Age” is a  nice touch, as are the country-esque guitar bends on “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart.” But by removing the room full of people, the record lacks the electric atmosphere his sparse solo arrangements need to sparkle.

 

 

 

Where to begin: Wilco

Kids these days are all listening to shit. I figure it is because they don’t understand how to approach an established band with a long history and an extensive back catalogue. This is where I come in.

First up, America’s finest band.

Wilco can be divided into three distinct eras: 

Pre-Summerteeth

Starting with A.M., they were very much still in the hoedown country mode, with an added pop-sensibility. Jeff Tweedy was still finding his feet as a band leader and frontman, and while A.M. featured a number of good songs, it is their most straight-ahead album to date. I would consider it on par with Radiohead’s Pablo Honey in terms of how incongruous it now sounds next to their later work.

AM

Being There showed the beginnings of the band stretching themselves in terms of textures and song styles. While the record still has plenty of songs with traditional structures, they were experimenting with elements of dissonance and songs like “Misunderstood” laid the foundations for what was to come.

As a double-album, Being There is perhaps overlong and in need of an editor, but despite being sprawling and inconsistent, it still rocks pretty hard.

beingthere

The prescription pill era:

Summerteeth is a perfect convergence of style and sound. Produced to within an inch of its life, the songs gleam, but still feel rough enough around the edges to stay human and affecting.

summerteeth

Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is Wilco’s high water mark. A remarkable album that simultaneously washes over the listener, drifts around your mind, and turns you inside out. It was a singular record that came out of the turmoil within the band and the world around it.

yhf

After dismissing Jay Bennet, Wilco produced A Ghost is Born. A fine record, but one that will always exist in the shadow of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. It has a colder, more clinical feel to it, and lacks the ethereal nature of the previous record’s production.

aghostisborn

The current era:

The current Wilco line-up has been together for almost a decade now. Something the band hadn’t experienced before, with the line up changing for every album. Sky Blue Sky was their first effort, and while it featured some strong songs, it veered into the jam band territory that Wilco became mired in for the second half of the 00s and early 10s.

skybluesky

Wilco (The Album) is the first forgettable record the band ever produced. “Wilco (The Song)” was the only highlight, if only for the humour of the title and chorus.

wilcothealbum

The Whole Love was somewhat of a return to form for the band, however the record still lacked the emotional impact that their stand-out albums possessed. The Whole Love’s songs all tend to feel overlong and while there are exceptions, the band’s slide into The Grateful Dead mode seemed almost complete. The songs tend to lack the crackle and spikiness of even the most sedate moments on Summerteeth, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot or A Ghost is Born.

thewholelove

Just when all seemed lost, Wilco came roaring back with their freshest, most vibrant sounding record in years. Star Wars’s short run time means there is no time for filler, with every track complementing the next. If it was released at a more impressionable age, I might have considered Star Wars my favourite.

starwars

Addendum:

Wilco also recorded two records with Billy Bragg – Mermaid Avenue volumes 1 and 2. These are a mixed bag, with the Wilco tracks being strong and the Billy Bragg ones being, well… Billy Bragg. There is a third volume of Mermaid Avenue, but this relies even more heavily on your like of Billy Bragg.