Watching Wilco: “Sunken Treasure: Live In The Pacific Northwest”

wilcosunken-treasure1With this week’s release of Wilco (The Album), there’s no better time to reconsider Wilco’s steady progression from scrappy alt-country forebears to kings of the AAA charts. Since each of Wilco’s studio albums has been pored over, criticized and deconstructed countless times, MAGNET’s Matt Siblo looked toward the band’s output on film. Watch as Jeff Tweedy can’t afford to buy Wendy’s for his hungry child! Marvel at guitarist Nels Cline’s inability to wear pants that cover his socks! See the Tweedy household and all of its bric-a-brac! And wonder at who’s been supplying this band with such awful beanies for the past decade. Today’s feature: Tweedy’s 2006 Sunken Treasure: Live In The Pacific Northwest.

Technically not an official Wilco film, but let’s not kid ourselves. A couple years removed from the drama surrounding Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and 2004’s divisive A Ghost Is Born, Sunken Treasure follows a scraggly-looking Tweedy licking his wounds on the road after a well-publicized stint in rehab, a topic he’s not shy about broaching throughout. Solo, his persona can at times be both more serene and intense, which gives way to some heartwarmingly earnest banter and a prickish freak out in Portland, Ore. Regardless of his noble intentions at community building, Tweedy comes across as the headmaster of a ballroom scolding his impudent pupils for talking out of turn. In his more relaxed moments, Tweedy seems to savor the freedom from the increasingly weighty responsibilities and magnitude that a Wilco tour has come to assume.

The first full-length collaboration with Christoph Green and Brendan Canty (they first worked together on the Chicago edition of Burn To Shine) bears all of the hallmarks of the duo’s filmmaking style, with its wide roadside shots highlighting the mundane beauty of life on the road. At the beginning of the film, Tweedy says that playing onstage by himself is like listening to the voices in his head calling out from the blackness of an abyss. These shrieks take center stage at every performance; whether it’s a profession of love/marriage or a curious non sequitur, Tweedy laughs both with them and at them in a tenuous effort to maintain composure and control.

1999’s Man In The Sand
2002’s I Am Trying To Break Your Heart

What is your favorite Wilco album? Vote here.

Moby Picks: Will Cotton

mobylogo100b2Moby is the artist who wasn’t there—but only because he’s always in motion. From hardcore punk to techno to film scores to mainstream rock to the sampladelic commercial phenomenon that was 1999’s Play, Moby’s career can appear as a blur of forever-changing sounds, vocalists and moods. His palette has shifted to twilight blue on the home-recorded Wait For Me (out this week on Little Idiot/Mute), with noir, shapeshifting pocket symphonies such as “Shot In The Back Of The Head” and its David Lynch-created video. Moby will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com this week. Read our Q&A with him.

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Moby: My friend Will Cotton is a phenomenal painter. His latest paintings are of degenerated and destroyed environments made out of candy.

Put Up Your Dukes: Frank Black Vs. The Pixies

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Two of MAGNET’s Matts—editor Matthew Fritch and writer Matt Ryan—go to the mat to see whose opinion is more correct. Today’s topic: “Bone Machine” vs. Bluefinger, “Nimrod’s Son” vs. Teenager Of The Year, Black Francis vs. Frank Black. Put up your dukes!

From: Matthew Fritch
To: Matt Ryan

I have to say, the Pixies reunion never sat well with me. The band certainly deserves all its posthumous acclaim and enduring popularity, but there’s something untoward about the summer-festival cash grabs. Plus, there’s the new boxed set, Minotaur, which should’ve been titled Gouge Away. I think the price tag reaches $450 if you get the edition with all the bells and whistles. Even if I wasn’t being the vintner at the Sour Grapes Winery where the Pixies making bank is concerned, I have a debate-worthy point to make: Frank Black’s body of solo work now surpasses the relatively brief spurt of creativity he experienced with the Pixies. From his output with the Catholics to Grand Duchy and back to Black Francis again, he’s become more diverse, a better songwriter and a better vocalist. What’s up with these fools clamoring to hear “Where Is My Mind?” for the umpteenth time?

From: Matt Ryan
To: Matthew Fritch

First of all, “summer-festival cash grab” is a bit harsh. These guys aren’t the Eagles charging $150 per ticket so Don Henley can buy a third Ferrari. Did you see LoudQUIETLoud, the documentary about the Pixies reunion? Christ, until this tour, David Lovering was a real life Gob, doing magic tricks to eke out a living. And who the hell knows what Joey Santiago was doing to feed himself. Anyway, back to the matter at hand, you claim that Frank Black is still doing solo work? I stopped paying attention after his ’93 self-titled release, which included his only memorable post-Pixies tune, “Los Angeles” (remember that bitchin’ hovercraft?). I’m being facetious, of course. I’m aware of Mr. Black’s substantial solo catalog. I had to stop listening, however, due to extensive forehead bruising; I only get about two songs into the likes of Honeycomb and fall face down onto my desk in a state of catatonic boredom. Here’s a suggestion: Play the aforementioned record’s “Selkie Bride,” followed by Surfer Rosa’s “Bone Machine.” Compare. That should end this debate immediately.

From: Matthew Fritch
To: Matt Ryan

I’m glad you brought up LoudQUIETLoud. That was the documentary about four people who do not like to be in a room together, right? It bummed me out in the same way that End Of The Century did, learning that the Ramones—for me, the quintessential band unit, from the uniforms to the faux-brotherhood—mostly hated each other. Creative tension is one thing, but passive-aggressive dysfunction is painful to watch. I don’t have a comeback for your Honeycomb jab. Well, I sort of do—it’s called Bossanova and it’s almost 25 percent of the Pixies’ output. Honeycomb and Frank Black’s rootsy phase, circa 2002-2006, wasn’t my favorite, either, but there’s plenty of other discs on the shelf. I’ll save the gory details for an Over/Under piece, but Frank Black has made three great albums: Teenager Of The Year, Dog In The Sand and Petits Four (by Grand Duchy, his duo with wife Violet Clark). They’re all very different from each other—the first is a sprawling punk masterpiece, the second is surreal and Stonesy, and the third is synth-enabled pop—and they’re spread out over more than a decade. Sometimes it takes a while to get where you’re going. What kind of range did the Pixies have? Oh, we already mentioned it: loud, quiet, loud.

From: Matt Ryan
To: Matthew Fritch

I agree, the documentary was painful viewing. I hear Metallica’s therapist is available; maybe they should give him a call. Teenager Of The Year is a better than average rock n’ roll album. Punk? Not so much. I’ll be honest, I couldn’t remember what Dog In The Sand sounded like until I just pulled it off my shelf a few minutes ago. I suspect I listened to it a few times in 2000 when the CD came out and it has been collecting dust ever since. It’s certainly not a bad record, but there’s just not much here to keep a listener coming back (plus, I could rattle off 20 bands that have done a better job aping the Stones). I think part of the problem is that Charles Frank Black Francis Thompson actually tries to sing on his solo material. While he’s electrifying when screeching, moaning and shouting obscenities in Spanish, as a traditional singer, he’s positively narcotic (and not in a good way). Grand Douchey (did I spell that right?) suffers from the same affliction. Black’s and his wife’s tone-deaf crooning make for painful—and painfully boring—listening. Back to the Pixies, I’m not going to go on and on about how Bossanova was an underrated entry in their canon (mostly because I wasn’t crazy about it myself). Such a defense is unnecessary, however, as the strength of Come On Pilgrim, Surfer Rosa and Doolittle render any other catalog nitpicking irrelevant. These were seminal releases, influencing countless bands. How many imitators has solo Frank Black spawned?

Continue reading “Put Up Your Dukes: Frank Black Vs. The Pixies”

Moby Picks: José González

mobylogo100b2Moby is the artist who wasn’t there—but only because he’s always in motion. From hardcore punk to techno to film scores to mainstream rock to the sampladelic commercial phenomenon that was 1999’s Play, Moby’s career can appear as a blur of forever-changing sounds, vocalists and moods. His palette has shifted to twilight blue on the home-recorded Wait For Me (out this week on Little Idiot/Mute), with noir, shapeshifting pocket symphonies such as “Shot In The Back Of The Head” and its David Lynch-created video. Moby will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com this week. Read our Q&A with him.

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Moby: Boy, José González makes some pretty songs. Why do Swedes seem to like Spanish names so much? Video for 2007’s “Down The Line” after the jump.

Continue reading “Moby Picks: José González”

Live Review: The Feelies, Chicago, IL, June 29, 2009

feelies550The Feelies took the stage at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park on Monday night, playing their first Chicago gig in 18 years. While even more time has passed since the group’s post-punk guitar shtick first reigned in 1977, the little old band from Haledon, N.J., started out rocking hard and only picked up speed as the night progressed, strumming away the years and playing many old favorites in front of thousands.

The weather cooperated nicely for the outdoor show, making it the perfect summer evening for Millennium Park’s free concert series. Bill Million was the penultimate rhythm guitar hero while Glenn Mercer blazed on leads—and the double drumming of Stanley Demeski and Dave Weckerman pushed the beat (and bassist Brenda Sauter) into bouncing, droning overdrive. “Punk never sounded so innocent,” said one observer.

After a blistering 70-minute set that included familiar tunes such as “Deep Fascination” and “Too Far Gone,” the band encored with a cover of R.E.M.’s “Carnival Of Sorts (Box Cars),” its own rave-out “Fa Cé-La” and the Velvet Underground’s “What Goes On.” Then, with the overtime clock ticking loudly and a huge throng of dancing fans crushing in the front of the Pritzker stage, the band returned for an accelerated version of the Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black.” Word to the wise: Catch the Feelies’ upcoming shows in Hoboken, just so you can say you were there.

—Mitch Myers; photo by Jerry Goldner

Film At 11: Other Girls

Cleveland outfit Other Girls sound like Band Of Horses sweating the Strokes, and it gets hilariously more referential from here: On the video for “Hey Fella, You Fell” (from debut album Perfect Cities on Audio Eagle), the band members inhabit the covers of classic albums, from Valhalla’s Blech (a parody of Nirvana’s Bleach—how Mad magazine of them) to LPs by INSX, Elvin Costella and Creepy Bongwater Recital.

http://vimeo.com/5132373

Moby Picks: “Family Guy”

mobylogo100b2Moby is the artist who wasn’t there—but only because he’s always in motion. From hardcore punk to techno to film scores to mainstream rock to the sampladelic commercial phenomenon that was 1999’s Play, Moby’s career can appear as a blur of forever-changing sounds, vocalists and moods. His palette has shifted to twilight blue on the home-recorded Wait For Me (out this week on Little Idiot/Mute), with noir, shapeshifting pocket symphonies such as “Shot In The Back Of The Head” and its David Lynch-created video. Moby will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com this week. Read our Q&A with him.

family-guy-550cMoby: Obvious, I know, but Family Guy is the single best thing to ever appear on television. Watch full episodes here.

MP3 At 3PM: Polvo

polvo400Radiohead may have given us In Rainbows, but the reunited Polvo has prepared In Prisms, which—if you look at the cover of Dark Side Of The Moon—is like how the rainbow first started, maaan. As previously reported, the members of Polvo (drummer Brian Quast is relatively new to the group) reunited last year to play All Tomorrow’s Parties; the full-length In Prisms arrives September 8 on Merge. Here’s “Beggar’s Bowl,” which does not warrant the exhumation of ’90s-vintage rock-critic term “math rock” but does sound like two songs playing simultaneously.

“Beggar’s Bowl” (download):

Watching Wilco: “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart”

wilcocoverbreakyh250With this week’s release of Wilco (The Album), there’s no better time to reconsider Wilco’s steady progression from scrappy alt-country forebears to kings of the AAA charts. Since each of Wilco’s studio albums has been pored over, criticized and deconstructed countless times, MAGNET’s Matt Siblo looked toward the band’s output on film. Watch as Jeff Tweedy can’t afford to buy Wendy’s for his hungry child! Marvel at guitarist Nels Cline’s inability to wear pants that cover his socks! See the Tweedy household and all of its bric-a-brac! And wonder at who’s been supplying this band with such awful beanies for the past decade. Today’s feature: 2002’s I Am Trying To Break Your Heart.

A “making of a making of” as Tweedy would later dub it, I Am Trying To Break Your Heart is the allegorical journey of a band battling both itself and a far more insidious villain, the major-label record industry. “I know it’s cool to bitch about your record label,” Jay Bennett coyly remarks. “But they’re giving us $85,000 for us to record a record they haven’t heard a note of.” Right. This type of naiveté helps the film’s artistry-over-commercial-viability message not seem cloying. When Tweedy reacts to the label’s rebuffing of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, he doesn’t fly into a megalomaniac rage; rather, he demurely states that the label’s reaction hurt his feelings. One of the factors for IATTBYH‘s longstanding appeal stems from the unbelievable candor and access Sam Jones was afforded to its subject, adding a delicacy to the film that extends beyond the purview of a fans-only homage or a behind-the-scenes concert film. The unveiling of Wilco’s fragility, captured perfectly in the grainy black-and-white tones of a Chicago winter, is compelling because it avoids the cringe-worthy self-parody (though there certainly is some of that) of Metallica doc Some Kind Of Monster. For starters, the motives for making a full-length feature about Wilco in 2001 stem from Jones’ obvious admiration for the band and not an effort at deconstructing the rock ‘n’ roll mythos, since one has to attain the status of an idol in order to be killed. Flirting with women after a show, bassist John Stirratt is propositioned to sign a woman’s backside. “Someone in our band did that once,” he retorts. The doldrums backstage are surprising, yet not in the least way striking.

And while the film gives credence to every story about “the man” not caring about “the music,” IATTBYH is more endearing when it peers into the band’s complex psyche. Watching Tweedy squirm backstage while contest winners ask whether his new album is going to sound “more like A.M. or Summerteeth,” the discomfort from this innocuous type of glad-handing is palpable. It’s striking to watch a singer who routinely stands in front of thousands to be so uncomfortable in his own skin. All it takes is for one yahoo to reference Tricky and Tweedy abruptly leaves the room. The scene is not only fascinating because the viewer is allowed voyeuristic access to such an uncomfortable interaction but because it provides a stark contrast to the more relaxed and populist attitude Tweedy would later embrace.

I’ll refrain from providing any armchair philosophy on the importance of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot since Jones recruited two of rock’s most hyperbolic enthusiasts, Greg Kot and David Fricke, to pontificate on just that, spinning yarns and toothy grins about the grandiose importance of the album as well as the band’s ultimate historical significance while providing some raw sociological data on how the kids these days talk too much on their cell phones. Unbeknownst to them, all of this talk about Wilco not having a place on the radio would instantly date itself, as many of the issues regarding the production and distribution of albums that led to the imbroglio surrounding Yankee Hotel Foxtrot are not quite as ubiquitous, especially for those as established as Wilco was even pre-YHF.

In the liner notes of the DVD, Jones mentions concerns about whether the film would come across as one-sided in the wake of the falling out between Bennett and the rest of the band. It has become next to impossible to watch IATTBYH without projecting personal prejudices regarding Wilco’s past and future output onto this one 90-minute document. The director claims to have gone to great pains to edit some of the more spiteful comments Jay made about his leaving in an effort to not exploit the bad feelings that were still rubbed raw. Whether he did an adequate job will now forever be open to speculation and conjecture.

1999’s Man In The Sand

What is your favorite Wilco album? Vote here.

The Over/Under: Weezer

Weezer has always gotten more than its fair share of contempt. We come not to bury Rivers Cuomo, but to praise him. Tucked beneath its Cheap Trick riffs and nerd-friendly lyrics, Weezer managed to record some of the best power-pop anthems of the past 15 years. And even if the band’s recent efforts haven’t lived up to its classic debut and history of hits, this is still a band with the power to surprise us. While some of Weezer’s songs have passed into our collective memory (“Buddy Holly,” “Beverly Hills”) and have no intention of leaving anytime soon, others should never have been released in the first place (we’re looking at you, “Heart Songs”). With Cuomo and crew about to launch their own online radio station courtesy of Clear Channel, what better time to examine the most overrated and underrated Weezer songs?

Continue reading “The Over/Under: Weezer”