Tuesday, May 15, 2007
2007 is a strange time for an album-oriented band to be releasing a new album, and Wilco knows it.
Jeff Tweedy & Co. sent an open letter to their fans via email this week, on the eve of the release of their new CD Sky Blue Sky. The message was simple but striking. Basically, please pay actual money for our new record.
“We're actually asking you to please go out next week and do the right thing for Wilco,” the email reads. “That is, vote with your feet and prove the band's faith well-placed and buy the record.”
This is far from a David Lee Roth-ian act of desperation. To the contrary, Wilco has probably one of the most devoted fan bases in music. The Wilco faithful absorb and savor the band’s live and studio releases, exchange rare recordings and never miss them when they come to town. But they also gobble up the band's voluminous side projects, like Autumn Defense, Golden Smog and Loose Fur. They stand in silent rapture at Jeff Tweedy’s early-Dylanesque solo shows. They scoop up the Uncle Tupelo reissues. They debate the merits of Jay Bennett vs. Nels Cline. They actually listen to the 10-plus minutes of migraine-inspired noise at the end of “Less Than You Think.”
Wilco returns this loyalty in kind, playing occassional club shows as their venues get larger, streaming shows and rarities on their website’s Roadcase. For the past few weeks, they have even streamed Sky Blue Sky in its entirety. Their bond with the audience is more like a covenant, a leap out of a musical plane in this era of effortless file swapping and musical devaluation. They treat their fans like adults, and merely ask that we return the favor. As the Wilco email says:
“We continue to make lots of music available free to all in the road case, continue to allow taping/photos at shows, and basically just try to keep the things we do charge for of a quality that make you feel like you got a bargain. You know, mutual respect and all that. We like the way it works... a lot. We really do believe in trying to keep as much of it as free and open as is humanly possible. That seems pretty obvious... but somehow it remains a slight novelty in the modern day music business.”
Or as Tweedy says more succinctly at the end of their great track “Hell is Chrome”: Come with me.
Sky Blue Sky comes out today. I have only heard two tracks, “What Light” and “Either Way.” (Rather than stream it, I still am attached to the ritual of the day-of-release record-store pilgrimage.) They are beautiful, melodic songs, closer in spirit to Mermaid Avenue than Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, written and performed with passion and care. Artisitcally, Wilco is at a peak — a peak that has lasted at least five years, but a peak nonetheless. But don’t just take it from Rock Turtleneck. Go out or go online and get your own copy. Better yet, get the deluxe version with eight live performances, interviews and more. We’ll all be the better for it.
Wednesday, May 09, 2007
According to a recent article in USA Today, The Hard Rock theme park in Myrtle Beach is building a 150-foot-tall steel roller coaster with a Led Zeppelin theme. It's scheduled to open in spring 2008.
While the so-called “Stairway to Heaven” will reach Icarus-like heights, Rock Turtleneck hopes that in true Zep fashion, it will also plummet to the lowest depths. For example, recreating the long drop from the window of the Edgewater Inn to the Puget Sound in Seattle where Bonzo, Pagey and a roadie or two fished out their infamous mud shark for use on a willing groupie. (Is there such thing as an unwilling groupie?)
A theme park attraction is perhaps the greatest tribute a musician can hope for in his or her lifetime. If you no longer play concerts, it gives your young fans a whole new place to throw up. That’s why the Stairway is but one of many rock-related theme park rides around the country. Here are a few others you should know about, compiled by the Rock Turtleneck travel & leisure staff:
The White Stripes Elephant coaster. (Detroit Fair Grounds) This two-car dynamo has a rather unconventional design. The front car does all the work, while the second car is really just along for the ride. Previously known in the 80s as the “Wham! Coaster” and in the 60s as “Simon & Garfunkel’s Screams of Silence.”
Bob Dylan’s Desolation Row-ler Coaster. (Coming to your town via Traveling Circus) The oldest, creakiest, crankiest coaster known to man has been held millions in rapt attention since the JFK era, and can still thrill like few others. Sometimes the ride seems to go on forever. Other times it makes no sense at all.
Exile in Dunkville. (Liz Phairgrounds, Chicago) The dunking booth’s very attractive hostess will do just about anything to bring in new customers. But the harder she tries, the less popular and interesting her attraction seems to get.
The Police’s "Murder by Bumper" cars. (Various venues) Open for business for the first summer since 1983, and exponentially more expensive, this attraction boasts only three cars. Ride it with two friends, however, and you’ll instantly be at each others throats. Yet somehow it works in the end.
R.E.M.’s “Driver 8” train ride. (Six Flags, Athens GA.) This impressionistic journey through Reconstruction-era Georgia was one of the best, most unusual rides in the country for much of the 80s and 90s. But it has taken one horrifically wrong turn after another since 1997, when the 4th wheel fell off.
Thursday, May 03, 2007
Thanks to the ridiculous ease in which digital music files can be swapped, stolen and lost by the hundreds, music has been almost completely devalued. Yet the White Stripes have managed to make a new song feel like a genuine event.
This week they released a new single on iTunes called “Icky Thump.” It’s a mammoth, glorious slab of Zeppelinesque musical man meat. Play it loud and don’t be surprised if you see naked cherubs emerging from their Houses of the Holy.
“Icky Thump,” like much of the Whites' previous album Get Behind Me Satan, adds new instruments to the White Stripes palette. Only in this case, the actual instrument is a mystery. Is it a guitar? An organ? Bagpipes? That thing Brian Jones played on the Beatles’ “Baby, You’re A Rich Man”? It’s full of funny changeups, double-tracked riffs, wild leaps of octave, and zany lyrics:
Who’s using who?
What should we do?
Well you can’t be a pimp
And a prostitute too.
Meg White’s rudimentary drumming serves “Icky Thump” well, and is living proof of the volatility of band chemistry. Jack White is admirable for the seriousness with which he takes his rock stardom. He wears costumes. He plays the blues. He forms supergroups on the side. He produces comeback records for living legends. And because he writes great songs and plays and sings them with such élan, he is well on his way to becoming a legend himself.
Their sixth album, also called Icky Thump, comes out June 19th. A tour of the U.S. and Canada is to follow. To get a live dose of them right now, take a house call to the wonderful music site Dr. Mooney’s 115th Dream and download a very rare, very fine show from The Joint in Las Vegas.