Friday, March 26, 2010

CD of the Day: ‘Kicking Television,’ Wilco (2005)

How could I crush an album yesterday, then glorify many of those same songs 24 hours later? Easy: Wilco’s current lineup is a killer live band, as this live album aptly demonstrates.

Given room to breathe on stage, most of the songs from 2004’s “A Ghost Is Born” move up an entire letter grade, at least. All of the angst is burned off by the spotlights, and Wilco just … plays. “The Late Greats” basks in the glow of bigger power chords; “Hell Is Chrome” is full of bluesy fire; “Wishful Thinking” is so engagingly mournful it would sound at home on “Summerteeth”; “Hummingbird” turns into a massive singalong; “Muzzle of Bees” makes room for both intricate acoustic guitar and a fuzzed-out electric solo at the same time; even “Handshake Drugs” is more interesting here.

And that’s just “Ghost” songs. The “Foxtrot” cuts are even more rewarding, especially “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart” powered by the thunderous drumming of Glenn Kotche. Nels Cline, meanwhile, tags an epic solo on the end of “Ashes of American Flags” that turns a formerly good song into a Wilco classic.

Though the two most recent albums dominate this two-disc set, the deeper cuts are mostly unassailable, as well. Wilco will never go wrong opening with “Misunderstood”; “Shot in the Arm” and “Via Chicago” are choice “Summerteeth” choices; and the back-to-back combo of “One by One” and “Airline to Heaven” from the “Mermaid Avenue” discs serve a reminder for how great that project was.

The only problem is the 17 minutes of wasted time at the end of Disc 2. I know the band loves “Spiders (Kidsmoke),” but they could include three other songs in the time allotted for this one mediocre piece. It’s then a shame that such a wonderful collection ends flat with the poor cover selection of “Comment (If All Men Are Truly Brothers).”

Overall, though, “Kicking Television” demonstrates what a fabulous live band Wilco has become. This compilation is an essential piece of the band’s catalog.

Grade: A

Favorite Track: “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart”

Least Favorite Track: “Comment (If All Men Are Truly Brothers)”

For more of my thoughts on this general Wilco topic/moment in time, check out my concert review from 2006 here.

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