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“Why Didn’t the Wilco Show at the Palace in St. Paul WORK?”

Thank you to the incredibly extensive website thecurrent.org out of the Twin Cities for making Thursday night’s Wilco show at the Palace Theater in St. Paul available for streaming. And is that Blitzen Trapper, White Reaper and St. Vincent all embarking on metro area shows, all within the exact same weekend? I think Minnesota has got to be the most underrated place to live in the entire nation.
Ok, well anyway, let’s get down to brass tacks, without further ado. Let me preface this by issuing a de facto defense of my loud-a** mouth here by assuring the reader that I have in fact seen Wilco IN PERSON before, in 2006 at the IU Auditorium in Bloomington, Indiana, a fantastic show by all accounts. By the “California Stars” encore there were stars in people’s eyes — the band delivered a high-energy couple of hours the type of thing that reigns as anthemic, leaves nothing lacking and reminds us why we all go gaga over this mid-tempo soft-rock in the first place.
And as we all know, popular rock music is nothing without the vocal (as much as I appreciate my beloved Man or Astroman? and Don Caballero). I thought that on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, the entirety of the instrumentation (keep in mind studio electro/noise-maker Jay Bennett was still in the band at this time) made for a listen that was intimidating and urban. By A Ghost is Born, then, you had Bennett kicked out of the band for personal studio skirmishes [1], and, I think, an elevated richness in Tweedy’s vocals, as if the shackles have been taken off and he’s unleashing a new artistic part of him, for the project with “Hell is Chrome,” “Muzzle of Bees,” “Wishful Thinking” and others. 2005, then, spawned the monster that is Kicking Television: Live in Chicago, agreed upon as the band’s best album of their career by Pitchfork and by this site as well.
So judging by all this stellar output since YHF, the replacement of Bennett with this dude named Mikael Jorgensen, who seems to never make any waves or even do any solo projects or do anything professionally other than play keys for Tweedy, isn’t the problem. The noise and din they make all over Kicking Television on whiny, bratty tunes like “I am Trying to Break Your Heart” and “Misunderstood” play as bulwark pop/rock sounds, in the 2000’s decade and perhaps beyond. But maybe that’s just it. Maybe Jeff Tweedy is getting too old to be a whiny, bratty kid.
But further validating my titular question of this post is the fact that Star Wars and Schmilco are really pretty good [with me having admittedly called in sick for Wilco (the album) and The Whole Love], fully immerse in my Califone obsession as I was and all. Schmilco is a RELAXING album and Star Wars is a trippy, psychedelic, Velvet Underground-influenced album. If I speak for everyone, then I think we’re all just struck a little dumb before what this band has accomplished over the last 20 years, all the little mini-star-reaching anthems like “I’m Always in Love” with that classic Moog riff, to “You Never Know,” with all its narcissistic, drinking-in-the-middle-of-the-day, anthemic perfection.
With this being the case, when we now see Jeff Tweedy on the stage expressionless, retroactive in style and (excuse me) overweight, it’s sort of like we’re trying to use a part of our brain we never have before — like how identical twins will have opposite parts of their minds most cultivated. I don’t KNOW how to explain Jeff Tweedy’s current complete lack of power to entertain a crowd, because I’ve never been able to explain the gravitational Midwestern force that was Wilco, in the first place. It’s beyond words.
One point I’d like to make is that Schmilco, it seems, by and large, fills living rooms, not theaters. The Palace in St. Paul, too, doesn’t seem to be the sort of moderately sized establishment like the Buskirk-Chumley in Bloomington (it’s probably more akin to the campus auditorium), and indeed, there seems just a vulgar amount of empty space around the band within this venue, without the requisite sound needed to really pump things up to the aesthetics of the occasion. Now, many bands do these things called “living room tours,” including St. Louis’ own droll and charming The Bottle Rockets, as well as my beloved Califone, and to be sure Wilco is probably a little bit too big and popular for such an expedition. Plus, it’s just hard to listen to the resigned intimacy of Schmilco and completely clear from your mind all the relationship platitudes and drama of the band’s most intense former work like “She’s a Jar” and “I’m the Man Who Loves You” (or that is, I’d imagine other people would find it hard, perhaps). So it seems there’s no easy way to solve the Wilco puzzle these days — they’re doing shows which are too grandiose for their current blue-collar, workmanlike, everyman’s folk-rock, and they’re trying to compensate by selling the brand of the “Wilco” which they formerly were, which is basically relationship drama kings. It’s true that Tweedy is probably a little tired from touring and curating, having just put on the Solid Sound Festival once again in North Adams, Massachusetts. Tweedy sounds inspired and invigorated on the last two albums, whereas on stage at the Palace he just looks scared, as if he really is less afraid of critics than he is of “normal American kids.”
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[1] This accords to Wilco: Learning How to Die by Greg Kot, a commendable read.
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[2] To compound matters the lineup was probably a slight step down from former years, when they were able to land the likes of Yo La Tengo, Neko Case and members of Los Lobos… also for the record The Autumn Defense contains members of Wilco.

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