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Columns > Jesse Jarnow - Brain Tuba

Published: 2009/07/29
by Jesse Jarnow

Seeing Wilco, Thinking About Klklklklkl Fruit

BRAIN TUBA: Seeing Wilco, Thinking About Klklklklkl Fruit

I returned to Brooklyn from my sojourn in the mountains to retrieve some bank documents last month. They don’t believe in the whole cloud-computing scene up there. They’re still dealing with actual clouds, and doing some amazing things. There’s a guy, Haarawillcull, who makes specialized, localized weather systems. A sign of affluence is to possess one of his rain domes in your yurt during the three weeks of ball-blistering heat of the hot season. Using their need for notarized bank papers as an excuse—I’m preparing to convert my assets into one of their fruit-based currencies—I did what thousands of others have done to beat the heat: I went to Coney Island.

Following my trip, which went from mule-back to pick-up to train to taxi to plane to taxi to L-train to G-train to F-train, I ended up—wouldn’t you know?—in a minor league baseball stadium, seeing Wilco.

Despite neither being a dad nor really liking a vast percentage of the things usually called “rock,”; I somehow have—over the past 10 years—developed an affinity for Wilco’s music. They are only the American Radiohead in the sense that Radiohead—while also great—aren’t nearly as weird as most people seem to think they are, and Wilco even less than that. But, there is a certain amount of exploration that goes on in Wilco’s music—Nels Cline and Glenn Kotche are major players considered from any school—but also straight-up roots-respeck. So, yeah, they were in Brooklyn, I was in Brooklyn, it seemed like going was the thing to do.

The result, after 15 or 20 Wilco shows over the past decade, was something I could not have predicted: apathy.

Wilco were as magnificent as ever. Musically, they carried themselves with all the great grace they’ve worked up as a road band. Jeff Tweedy sang in a properly cracked voice, if maybe occasionally acting too cutesy with a sing-along here or a calculatedly self-deprecating comment there. But, really, his honed neuroses are part of Wilco’s charm anyway, so whatever.

Their blog-baitingly titled new album, Wilco (The Album) I think, has its moments, and it’s growing on me. Certainly, though, there’s been a general blanding of Wilco’s sound since Jay Bennett’s fertile arrangements (and, later, Jim O’Rourke’s deconstructions). It is possible, maybe, that their songwriting is merely retreating into late career insularity, past the point of anthemic refrains. This is different than making bad albums, of course, but too many plods like ‘One Wing’ and ‘Walken’ can nip drama from a set.

But they’re not bad songs, for the most part, just boring, and I maybe could have ignored them, until the ‘California Stars’ encore, played a few blocks from Woody Guthrie’s house and a few weeks since the death of Jay Bennett, the music’s main author. It was ‘California Stars,’ as played by Max Verna during his spate of solo gigs after leaving the Ominous Seapods, that convinced me to check out Wilco, anyway, and a song that always felt perfect to me: a few chords and elegance.

At Coney Island, the band brought out Leslie Feist and the dude from Grizzly Bear, who kinda sang along and banged a tambourine or some shit. I’m not even sure I could hear them in the mix, but somehow the performance—either through the gesture of having them there or something musicological—seemed drab, like the moment a youthful face starts to show its age, a slight sagging. A strange dawning, and possibly an illusory one, created by ears who’ve heard some of those songs on more days than not since they were first released. And not a problem that’s Wilco’s fault, unless one can fault a band for continuing to exist. But it’s also an issue that bands do face as they get older, how to continue changing in interesting ways even as they achieve stability. Or not changing. Maybe Wilco just is. I imagine they’d be pretty happy with that.

Me, I’m going in on klklklklkl fruit. Owing to the hyper-local economy and the decay rate of the fruit’s sweetness in perfect proportion to the next season’s harvest, its value hasn’t changed for centuries. The klklklklkl-per-word rate is a lot greater over there, anyway. I’m going back to an implausible outpost in an isolated mountain valley, I do believe I’ve had enough.

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