Wilco Reaches for the 'Sky'

Wilco

Wilco broke out of its alternative country mold with 2001's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. hide caption

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The y'allternative groovesters showcase their new record, Sky Blue Sky, in a two-hour show for All Songs Considered. Critic Bob Boilen takes a test listen.

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ALISON STEWART, host:

All right. If you're in Mobile, Alabama, tonight, you are so in luck, because Wilco is playing at your civic center. And then tomorrow for them is off to Tipitina's in New Orleans Tuesday and Wednesday. Or if you're like me you watch their laid back y'allternative groove on "SNL" over the weekend while sitting on my couch.

But before all of that, visitors to the NPR music Web site enjoyed the best of both worlds - a couple of hours of Wilco streaming live over the Internet. The good times came courtesy of Washington D.C.'s famed 9:30 club and was streamed on NPR's online music show ALL SONGS CONSIDERED, which can also be found on the radio. ALL SONGS CONSIDERED host Bob Boilen is on the line from D.C. Hi, Bob.

BOB BOILEN: Good morning.

STEWART: Hey, good morning. So just so people understand this, you folks do these concerts all the time. How did they get started?

BOILEN: We have about a hundred or so online. You know, I think bands are misrepresented. They do an album every couple of years, but most of what a band is like and is about is their live show. And they're on the road all time. And I felt like how can we get the real understanding of who a band, for example, like Wilco is? You know, they're on the road.

And so I approached the 9:30 Club, a club that I have a long-standing friendship with. I was in the first band that ever played that club. And I approached them and said could we try to Web cast bands from your venue? And we did it with Bright Eyes. The second one we ever did was Wilco, and it's gone amazing from there.

STEWART: Well, let's hear a song from the show. This is "Side with the Seeds" from the band's recent record, "Sky Blue Sky."

BOILEN: Good selection.

STEWART: It's Wilco, live from the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C.

(Soundbite of song, "Side with the Seeds")

WILCO (Rock Band): (Singing) Tires type black, where the blacktop cracks. Weeds spark through, dark green enough to be blue. When the mysteries we believe in aren't dreamed enough to be true, some side with the leaves, some side with the seeds.

The treetops nod, and the rain applauds. The park grows dark, and the swings all slowly die. But you and I will be undefeated by agreeing to disagree. No one wins but the thieves, so why side with anything?

The streetlights glow, it comes and goes when the sun comes back, as we all can plainly see. Embracing the situation is our only chance to be free. I'll side with you if you side with me.

(Soundbite of cheering, applause)

STEWART: That was "Side with the Seeds" from the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C. We're talking to ALL SONGS CONSIDERED host Bob Boilen. And Bob, I know you got to interview the lead singer of Wilco, Jeff Tweedy, about the band's process of making music. Was he forthcoming?

BOILEN: Oh, absolutely, and incredibly honest in a way that I just didn't anticipate. He started off talking about quickly how he write - he would go into his kid's kindergarten class and do song-writing workshops with children. And we started to talk about the creative process from there, and it just - I think if we hear some of it, you'll get an idea of his attitude that evening.

STEWART: All right. Let's fire off the clip.

Mr. JEFF TWEEDY (Songwriter, Lead Singer, Wilco): The creative process is an ability to get into your subconscious mind and come back with stuff. Your subconscious mind is subconscious because you're constantly repressing or you're constantly keeping it down. And if you can get into it and bring stuff back, to me, that's really all there is to the creative process. But it's not easy, and it continually has to be tricked. You have to continually trick yourself into being able to do that.

STEWART: And for someone like him, I mean, some people may know Wilco or they may know Uncle Tupelo, his band from forever ago. But it must be hard after all that time to just keep coming up with something new.

BOILEN: I think he finds a fresh attitude in the fact that he's living a clean lifestyle. His only addiction seems to be more running that anything else these days. And in that…

STEWART: Yeah. 'Cause he was a party guy back in the day. I can remember.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: I've seen it up close.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BOILEN: And I think in his songwriting, what he's talking about that subconscious is that, you know, about alcohol and drugs or whatever it might be, that you tend to go and dig into your subconscious and live there too long and don't come back with all that you can in this newly refreshed sort of way that he has now that he's, you know, a clean guy.

STEWART: We're going to play one more song. This one's called "Jesus Etc." Tell us what this is from.

BOILEN: This is from "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot," which they only did I think one song from that night. They did lots of songs from the latest record "Sky Blue Sky" and a surprising amount from one of my favorite records "Summerteeth," but not too many from this record, and it's a good one.

STEWART: All right. Well, let's take a listen. This is "Jesus Etc." from "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot." This is Wilco live.

(Soundbite of cheering)

(Soundbite of song, "Jesus Etc.")

WILCO: (Singing) Jesus, don't cry. You can rely on me, honey. You can come buy any time you want. I'll stick around. You were right about the stars. Each one is a setting sun.

Tall buildings shake, voices escape, singing sad, sad songs. Tuned to chords strung down your cheeks, bitter melodies turning your orbit around.

Don't cry. You can rely on me honey. You can come by any time you want. I'll be around. You were right about the stars, each one is a setting sun.

Tall buildings shake, voices escape, singing sad, sad songs. Tuned to chords strung down your cheeks, bitter melodies turning your orbit around.

Voices whine, skyscrapers are scraping together. Your voice is smoking. Last cigarettes are all you can get, turning your orbit around.

Our love, our love, our love is all we have. Our love, our love is all of God's money. Everyone is a burning sun.

Tall buildings shake, voices escape, singing sad, sad songs. Tuned to chords strung down your cheeks, bitter melodies turning your orbit around.

Voices whine, skyscrapers are scraping together. Your voice is smoking. Last cigarettes are all you can get, turning your orbit around. Last cigarettes are all you can get, turning your orbit around. Last cigarettes are all you can get, turning your orbit around.

(Soundbite of applause, cheering)

STEWART: That's live Wilco, "Jesus Etc." from the 2001 album "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot." Bob Boilen has been with us, the host of ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. Don't want to put you on the spot, Bob - ALL SONGS. I keep doing that. I'm sorry, Bob. I'm so sorry.

BOILEN: I need to do All Thongs Considered.

RACHEL MARTIN, host:

All Thongs Considered?

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: Wow. That's NPR after hours.

BOILEN: That's right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: Holy cow. Don't want to put you on the spot, although now I'm blushing for other reasons. So you have any more concerts coming up that we should know about?

BOILEN: Well, there are 14 bands next week.

STEWART: Whoa.

BOILEN: We're doing South by Southwest.

STEWART: Oh, yeah.

BOILEN: If you want to find me there, you can.

STEWART: Lucky you.

BOILEN: But we're Web casting 14 bands next week, yeah.

STEWART: Well, we'll catch up with you.

BOILEN: Okay.

STEWART: Have a good time at Stubb's barbecue. Got to do it.

BOILEN: Okay, will do.

STEWART: Best in Austin.

MARTIN: Thanks, Bob.

STEWART: Thanks, Bob.

BOILEN: Bye.

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Wilco In Concert

Audio for this feature is no loner available.

Jeff Tweedy of Wilco

Jeff Tweedy of Wilco performs live at the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C. Joel Didriksen of kingpinphoto.com hide caption

itoggle caption Joel Didriksen of kingpinphoto.com

In more than a decade of making music, Wilco has weathered a tumultuous label change, infighting and lineup changes, drug addiction, and depression. It's also emerged as one of the most innovative, influential, and widely revered bands making music today. Hear the group perform a full concert, webcast live on NPR.org from Washington, D.C.'s 9:30 Club on Wednesday, Feb. 27. John Doe, formerly of X and The Knitters, opens the show.

Wilco is on tour to support its latest release, Sky Blue Sky. Much less experimental than the band's previous two albums (A Ghost Is Born and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot), Sky Blue Sky finds Wilco returning to its more acoustic and country-rock roots. Though some critics were disappointed by the album's lack of sonic innovation, it's become Wilco's most commercially successful release to date.

Typical of any Wilco album, Sky Blue Sky meditates on love, loss, and frontman Jeff Tweedy's ongoing struggle with inner demons. But there's more ambivalence and resignation here: Relationships will or won't work out, people will or won't learn from their mistakes, and dreams will or won't come true. In the end, as Tweedy sings on the closing track, none of it matters since "we're designed to die."

Wednesday's live concert webcast marks Wilco's third for NPR Music. The band first appeared in the series in 2005 following the release of A Ghost Is Born and again in 2006, in conjunction with its live album Kicking Television.

Opener John Doe co-founded the L.A. punk band X 30 years ago, and since then, he's been massively influential. X incorporated a variety of roots music into its punk sound, and in the process laid the groundwork for Doe's own solo career. His new album, last year's A Year in the Wilderness, is a hooky collection of rootsy rock.

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