Known Johnson

November 17, 2005

Spinning out webs of deductions and melodies on a private beach in Michigan

Filed under: Music — Tom @ 12:45 pm

Chris already beat me to it, but I’m going to gush over Wilco’s new live album, Kicking Television – Live in Chicago anyway.

Some things are so good you don’t want to spoil them all at once. I’ve had books that were this good – so good that I didn’t want to rush through to the end, opting instead to dole out the pages at a leisurely pace, preferring to read at just the right time when I could really take it all in. And this is an album that falls in this category – regardless of it being live, regardless of it being filled with songs I already know (aside from one,) I want to let each moment breathe and be something special for fear that if I rush through to hear it all I’ll somehow spoil it. And so the truth is that while I’ve listened to almost nothing but Kicking Television since Tuesday morning, I’ve yet to actually hear the whole thing – when I’ve gotten distracted for any period of time, I’ve restarted listening to it from the beginning.

I’ve gotten close, but I haven’t even reached the monstrous Can-meets-Rolling-Stones epic “Spiders (Kidsmoke)” (track 10 of 11 on disc 2,) from whence my subject line is stolen, yet I can say that this is one of the best live albums I’ve ever heard. The sound is stunning – it’s honest and warm, untouched other than getting some loving tweaking at the mixing stage. No overdubs where the musicians flubbed a note or two, or where the vocals weren’t just right, and that’s the way a live album should be, especially for a band like Wilco and even more especially for this version of Wilco, who are easily the finest grouping of musicians Jeff Tweedy has assembled to back him. And even though the songs were recorded over four separate concerts on as many nights, everything meshes perfectly. There’s no attempt to hide the fact that this isn’t one concert, but more a representation of what a Wilco show can be.

The clarity is amazing – in front of a noisy audience with 6 musicians making as much of a racket as they can (such as at the end of “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart” or the subway-inspired noises in “Via Chicago,”) every noise and every instrument is perfectly clear. For people who really enjoy listening closely, this is a real treat. (Jazz guitarist Nels Cline’s fascinating contributions are audible in the left channel, Pat Sansone’s guitar and keyboard work are in the right, and Jeff Tweedy’s guitar is just slightly right of center while the rest of the band pans out between the three of them.)

It’s so good I have to carry it around with me, so I can look at the lovingly designed (but slightly minimal) artwork, a hallmark of Nonesuch-label projects. I just can’t commit it to simple mp3 files in my Ipod just yet – I’m not ready to give up on the tangible goods. It all, as a whole, needs time to soak in before I can file it away in the collection. If only every live album could be this lovingly prepared. Or every studio album, for that matter.

(The only downside to the whole thing is not getting the accompanying DVD that had been planned and filmed, but has since been scrapped by Tweedy as not “giving a sense of the audience, a sense of the time and place.” It’s a real shame not getting to see this band performing this material, but I have no doubt in the future we’ll get some live video from them.)



  1. Wow. You really need to do this kind of thing for a living. Wonderfully written. And it doesn’t hurt that I agree with everything you wrote! It *is* a great album, and really brings me back to the 70s, that golden age of double live albums.

    Comment by Chris — November 17, 2005 @ 2:31 pm | Reply

  2. Thanks Chris, that really means a lot! I wish I could make a living writing music reviews . . . (anyone looking to hire a writer, please contact me! ;-))

    Comment by Tom — November 18, 2005 @ 2:19 pm | Reply

  3. I see you’ve said that Wilco sanctioned bootlegs are available for download. Can you help a guy out and point the way or at least give a few clues? Many thanks.

    Comment by Tom — December 21, 2005 @ 8:09 pm | Reply

  4. Tom: probably the best source right now is the, which is a branch off of a huge fan-forum. You can also check,, and, all of which I use quite frequently.

    Comment by Tom — December 29, 2005 @ 7:07 am | Reply

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