April 2006

Wilco - Kicking Television - Live in Chicago
Nonesuch 79903-2
Format: CD
Released: 2005

by Joseph Taylor

Musical Performance ***1/2
Recording Quality ***1/2
Overall Enjoyment ***1/2

Wilco has traveled a long way from its alt-country origins. Jeff Tweedy, the band’s leader and primary songwriter, was already trying to break free of the genre’s constraints with Wilco’s second disc, Being There (1996). With three more discs to its credit, Wilco has become one of rock’s most fascinating bands, taking risks and refusing to be easily pegged. Tweedy has weathered personal problems and personnel changes to keep his band together, and it has emerged stronger and more versatile than ever. When he sings "You still love rock and roll" on "Misunderstood," the track that opens Kicking Television, it is a statement of fact rather than the question it was on Being There.

Kicking Television is a two-disc live set recorded last May in Chicago’s Vic Theatre. Wilco has become increasingly adept at exploring the sonic possibilities of the recording studio, and has been able to impressively re-create onstage many of the effects produced on disc. Some songs have a jolt of energy that was lacking in the studio versions. "I’m The Man Who Loves You" is funkier and harder-edged than it was on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, and the new arrangement makes more sense.

The live recording could contain a bit more of the Vic Theatre’s ambience, but it is perfectly acceptable. There’s nothing from A.M., but the band’s other recordings are well represented, including the Woody Guthrie tributes the band did with Billy Bragg. Few bands show Wilco’s brave willingness to try anything, but what is more important is that it so often succeeds.