Wilco makes alt-country go pop and lives to tell the tale

When Farrar pulled the plug on Uncle Tupelo, Tweedy, Stirratt, and the rest of the remaining members formed Wilco. With the new band came the beginning of the end of their alt-country status and of being grouped with the likes of Ryan Adams's Whiskeytown and the Old 97s. Just as fans were settling into the familiarity of A.M., Wilco's first album in 1995, along came pop-infused, de-countrified Being There in 1996. So when the band had the unfortunate duty of following Mr. Country, Johnny Cash, at that year's CMJ New Music Seminar, some fans began to leave. Tweedy, however, reportedly ate up the animosity. "What Jeff could not stand is any kind of passive response," Stirratt told Kot in Wilco: Learning How to Die. "He could accept people hating it, but he couldn't stand people just standing there ... judging him."

"You're never quite sure what songs will be performed, or how," Kot now says about Wilco via an e-mail exchange. "But you can always count on Wilco to play what feels freshest to them, and you can bet they won't be going through the motions playing some song they don't particularly care for anymore. That's not the approach of most artists, who often feel obligated to play certain songs no matter how worn out they are on them. That makes a Wilco show more like a ride with an uncertain destination: You don't know quite where you're going to end up, but you might run into something you've never heard or seen before along the way."

Locals received a taste of Tweedy's need for a crowd reaction when Wilco performed at the Carefree Theater in West Palm Beach during the Yankee Hotel Foxtrot tour. After the crowd stayed seated for three or so songs, Tweedy exclaimed, "Hey, this isn't a movie." Some of the audience stood up and began to dance in response, while others made their way to the front of the stage. "Connecting with your audience is really integral to a complete experience," says Stirratt. "When people aren't observing, you can feel it; when they're into it, there's definitely a more conscious energy."

Wilco: Heroes of rock critics, bane of seat warmers
Anton Corbijn
Wilco: Heroes of rock critics, bane of seat warmers


performs at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, February 17. Tickets cost $25. Call 954-946-2402.
Pompano Beach Amphitheater, 1806 NE 6th St, Pompano Beach.

In press interviews, Tweedy has said that he felt more free when recording A Ghost Is Born than on past efforts, and on the album he lets it all hang out with multiple guitar solos (the most indulgent being on the fifteen-minute "Less Than You Think"). Those who attend Wilco's upcoming concert at the Pompano Beach Amphitheater can expect Tweedy to indulge (or annoy) them with a few Jimmy Page moments. Or not.

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