Excerpt from the Alt-Country bible: In the beginning, there was Uncle Tupelo, and it was good. Harmony ruled across the land; the faithful were unified and shared in the communal glory of the One True Band … In time, though, the evil snakes of Temptation, of Creative Differences, of Egotism and Infighting, raised their ugly heads, and the benevolent rule of the One True Band was rent asunder. And there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth.
From the Chaos there emerged two bands, neither of which could rightfully claim the throne of One True Bandness. Son Volt, created by Disciple Farrar, and Wilco, under direction of Disciple Tweedy, filled the Void as best they could, and it was still good. Until Wilco, too long in the Wasteland, strayed from the Path of Alt-Country Righteousness and succumbed to the Evil Empire of Pop Music, forever casting their lot with the Devil, and shall never be spoken of again upon pain of death …
When Sun Volt and Wilco emerged from the ashes of Uncle Tupelo, fans of the alt-country genre hung upon every release by the projects headed by the twin creative powers behind Tupelo, much in the same manner that Beatles fans tracked the post-Fab Four work of McCartney and Lennon—and yes, the comparison is appropriate, given both the emotional connection engendered by the music and the immense respective talents of Jay Farrar and Jeff Tweedy.
While Farrar has stuck closely to the genre through his remarkable work in Son Volt and his recently released solo project, Tweedy has steered Wilco further and further away from Tupelo’s alt-country roots over the course of the band’s three released albums, a progression that has caused consternation among Tupelo’s devotees. A.M., Wilco’s first record, was a page straight out of Tupelo’s Tweedyness, featuring a mix of straight-ahead alt-county rippers and Tweedy’s sublime taste for plaintive ballads. On Being There, a sprawling, glorious mess of a double album, Wilco began fleshing out their sound by incorporating a host of pop conventions in a most unusual—and rewarding—manner.
That set the stage for Summerteeth, Wilco’s 1999 release that completely blew the top off any and all expectations from a former alt-country group. Summerteeth is, quite simply, perhaps the finest pop album to be released in the past decade. While mainstay instruments of the alt-country sound—such as banjo, lap steel, and tremelo guitar—hold a certain presence on Summerteeth, they are by and large subsumed in the dizzying array of keyboards and synthesizers that pack the album chock-full of pop nuances that are both unprecedented and reminiscent of Pet Sounds-era Beach Boys and, yes, the Beatles’ Abbey Road.
And if there’s any doubt as to Wilco’s ability to translate their studio masterpiece into a live setting, put them to rest. During an appearance on “Late Night With David Letterman,” Wilco tackled Summerteeth’s “Can’t Stand It,” a complex turbocharger of a song that features tempo changes, multiple keyboards and piano, and a wonderfully constrained primal scream from Tweedy. And they absolutely nailed it.
Wilco has recently earned yet another badge of distinction for an alternative endeavor. Citing creative differences over their latest album, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, the band has split with their label, Reprise Records, and are currently searching for a company that will release the record on its own merits. Tweedy has said that the new record is not as dense as Summerteeth, a description that seems both self-evident (it’s hard to imagine how pop could get any thicker) and intriguing, given his gift for musical space. Wilco has offered versions of the new record in downloadable form on its Web site, but there’s no word whether or not the album will be sold at the show. In any event, this is an opportunity to see a master of two musical genres, at the peak of his creative powers, flexing his considerable chops—however heretical that may be.