For me, one of the joys of the internet and the digital age, is the ease that creative visual work can be shot and distributed. This is particularly true of music videos, which now don’t rely on the huge budget and cast of thousands that were required in the MTV days to make an impact.
Readers and friends will be aware of my fondness for the American band Wilco (I blogged about their latest LP “Star Wars” here). I’ve travelled to Berlin to see them live, I’ve shared a lift with Matt Le Blanc on the way to a gig, I’ve convinced festival friends to see them.
They’re a special live experience. The line up has evolved through the years to the current talented players. Their musical chops, be them jazz, country or rock n roll, mean that they can play with absolute confidence live but still feel like they are teetering on the brink of implosion, pulling it back just as it feels they are slipping away.
I’ve come across the two clips below which were created by Richie Wireman. I’ve contacted Richie to try and find a little bit more about him but have yet to hear back. From his online presence, he designed and managed Wilco’s website for a number of years. He also has a Tumblr account on which he posts examples of his photographic work. Richie – if you see this, get in touch please, I’d love to fill in some of the blanks.
The first clip I’m going to post is of “Misunderstood”. This was the opening track of Wilco’s second album, a double, “Being There.” It’s a deceptively simple song, based around two chords D and G. Jeff Tweedy appears to be talking about a young musician who seems to be somewhat jaded.
Short on long term goals
There’s a party there that we ought to go to
Do you still love rock and roll?
Do you still love rock and roll?
It’s only a quarter to three
Reflected off the LCD
You’re looking at a picture of me
You’re staring at a picture of me
Take the guitar player for a ride
He ain’t never been satisfied
He thinks he owes some kind of debt
It’s a very bitter song and for anyone that pays mind to lyrics, it isn’t the most inviting introduction to an album. Ironically it always gets a whooping and hollering reception when played live, particularly around the “Do you still love rock and roll” line. At the time, Wilco had put out their debut post Uncle Tupelo album “A.M.” and attendance at their concerts was falling. “Misunderstood” looks back to the break up of Uncle Tupelo and is scornful of his former colleague Jay Farrer’s description of Tweedy as a “Mama’s Boy”. Tweedy was newly married with his son Spencer arriving (years later, he and Spencer would record and tour together).
The song ends with the repetition of “Nothing” which ultimately is cathartic and acts as a palette cleaner for the rest of the album and the rest of Wilco’s career, offering them the freedom to move away from the more traditional Alt Country trappings of their debut album which, whilst a fantastic record, was somewhat familiar territory.
At the time, Tweedy said the following about the album to No Depression magazine:
I really wanted the record to close that chapter of my life where music was the only thing in my life, forever. I wanted it to be like, ‘See ya later!’, but at the same time, I ended up feeling more excited about it again, with just a different perspective on it, but in a really healthy way.
It’s a song that is pivotal to Wilco’s career and has improved in performance as Wilco have grown in confidence over the years. It now benefits from the drama that the band can deliver live, in a similar way to “Via Chicago” which is part lullaby, part maelstrohm these days.
The video is set in their backyard in Chicago at the Civic Opera House. There’s some lovely work with images overlaid and bleeding into each other, whilst still remaining in a stop frame format. Richie has matched the image to the crescendos and diminuendos in the music. There’s a focus on the individual musicians as their parts come into focus. I particularly like the bit when the drummer Glenn Kotche is captured doing his stool stand and drop at the start of “I’m The Man Who Loves You”. The “nothing at all” section is really effective with still shots used in contrast to the fluidity of the rest of the song.
Tweedy eventually proved he can do good time nostalgia with the beautiful lilting “Heavy Metal Drummer” from Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.
The other song that Wireman has created a video for is “Art Of Almost” from the 2011 album “Whole Love”. Again, it is the opening track of an album and again it breaks free of the sound and style of previous Wilco albums. Whilst revisiting some of electronics that were part of the sound of both “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” and “A Ghost Is Born”, “Art of Almost” places the electronic pulse at the start of the album. It feels like it offers avenues still to be explored. At just over, seven minutes long, it serves to bookend the album with the twelve minute closing track “One Sunday Morning (Song for Jane Smiley’s Boyfriend)”.
The lyrics, whilst more abstract, fit in with the album’s underlying narrative of poor health and relationship problems.
Ironically, the least country song in the band’s whole repertoire is filmed at a gig at the Ryman Auditorium, the home of the Grand Ol’ Opry in Nashville. In this instance, Richie takes the band from soundtrack through to performance, capturing the theatre pews filling up.
I saw the band play possibly my favourite and one of the bravest opening one-two’s in Berlin when touring the album. They reversed the bookends and opened the concert with the long acoustic “One Sunday Morning” before moving into “Art Of Almost.” It worked brilliantly, the gentleness of the first song easing into the pulse of the second song and then the coda when the band and Nels Cline the guitarist in particular cut loose. It set a momentum that was then sustained throughout the rest of the show.
I do hope I hear from Richie and I’ll update you if I do. In the meantime, please enjoy a fantastic treatment of two of my favourite songs by possibly my favourite band.