Wilco – Ashes of American Flags DVD

Wilco - Ashes of American Flags DVD

Wilco - Ashes of American Flags DVD

With any new Wilco release comes a certain air of excitement; a sense of anxiousness, if you will, that does not subside until one can get their hands on it. If you’re familiar with Wilco’s spectacular, 2005 live, double album, Kicking Television: Live in Chicago, then you probably know that along with Radiohead, My Morning Jacket, et al., they are one of the best live bands today.

And with the release of its first live album/film, Ashes of American Flags, Wilco has once again, solidified itself as an amazing live band. It makes sense too, that with its next full-length on the horizon, for Wilco to make this well-timed decision. The members about to embark on a huge tour, the new album was streaming and sounds very promising (more on that review next month) and they are coming off, arguably, their weakest album to date.

All of this aside, Ashes of American Flags, finds a poised, accomplished band commenting on America and how much it has changed. But the sequencing works in its advantage, with these interviews and commentaries coming in brief, focused sections. Allowing the music—which is performed in four significant, American venues—to take center stage (no pun intended); Wilco shines with the magnitude and importance it is known for.

Even though Sky Blue Sky was a tad underwhelming, to say the least, Wilco is able to turn those songs into compelling music in a live setting. One of the many standouts comes with “You Are My Face,” and its entire progression. Harmonizing and uniting to deliver the opening verse, Jeff Tweedy and bassist John Stirratt peacefully sing together. Then, as the music shifts to the minor, you begin to hear Nels Cline’s guitar fight against Tweedy’s before exploding into a thunderous solo. At the climax, Tweedy returns with what has become one of his best vocal deliveries, singing, “I have no idea, how this happened.” It passes and the ending lulls away with Mikael Jorgensen’s pacing piano in proud assistance.

The band’s commentaries are particularly engaging and enticingly welcoming. Tweedy talks about how “Hank Williams was as much a pop star as Madonna was” and how he wishes music would scale back on abstract thinking and focus more on representative art. His bandmates note on how Tweedy always knows what he’s doing and not only do we see, but we hear from the band, just how hard life on the road can be. One of the best drummers in all of music, Glenn Kotche, is shown constantly practicing and Stirratt shares his opinion on American life and its “Wal-Mart-zilation.” Showcasing a true American band, right in the heart of America, the film ultimately succeeds in featuring earnest, sincere human beings who just happen to make remarkable music.

The performances and songs are varied as the band chose music from nearly all of their albums. And a few of the performances are taken from the band’s sound-check, providing an in-depth look at their undeniable aptitude. Tweedy is a joy to see, whether he’s in his Elvis-reminiscent white suit with glittered flowers, or reserved in his jacket and jeans, he is charming, amiable and with that voice, you just can’t lose. His voice shrieks on “Kingpin” and when he asks the crowd to join in, everything breaks loose.

There’s enough here to delight Wilco fans of all generations, it’s hard to believe these guys have been a band for almost fifteen years now. The energy and lively character that prevails in their live shows is exceptional; hearing “Shot in the Arm” is proof alone. And the DVD also allows for all of the songs, and the extras, to be downloaded in their audio format. Even the ones left off the DVD like “At Least That’s What You Said” are absolutely magnificent. It gives you something exciting and special to look forward to (I’ll be seeing them for the first time in June) and if nothing else, it’s another essential release in Wilco’s immense catalog. And with Wilco, that’s all you can ask for.

Nonesuch