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MUSIC: Ventura County | ROCKTALK

Wilco Can-Do

Hard-to-peg band finds fans by touring happily--with the likes of Sheryl Crow.

September 04, 1997|BILL LOCEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Most of the fans are probably going to the Sunday evening Santa Barbara County Bowl show to check out rock goddess Sheryl Crow, but Wilco rates a timely arrival as does opener Michael Penn. Crow will be donating her cut of the proceeds from the gig to the Scleroderma Foundation of Santa Barbara.

Once upon a time, Wilco was Uncle Tupelo, a critical success--which means the writers loved the band more than the record-buying public did. Uncle Tupelo recorded four albums during a 10-year career, which ended when Jay Farrar, half of the songwriter pool, abruptly split in 1994 and started another band, Son Volt. This left the other songwriter, Jeff Tweedy, and the other guys in the band. They became Wilco, not Uncle Wilco.

"I don't really care if Uncle Tupelo fans like Wilco," said Tweedy during a phoner from Colorado, "but some of them apparently do. I'm glad they liked Uncle Tupelo--I liked Uncle Tupelo, too. But it's like seeing a picture of a camping trip when you were a kid. You had a great time except for getting that fish hook stuck in your head."

Wilco has released a pair of albums, including a double album, "Being There," from last year. Since every other video on MTV isn't by Wilco and radio apparently can't figure them out either, the band keeps it going by touring relentlessly.

"We don't fit into any radio format. Once in a while, a few tracks sneak through here and there," said Tweedy. "I don't really care, I don't listen to the radio anyway. 'Being There' sold about three times as many as the one before."

Wilco music is folk and country with a twang, featuring banjos, pedal steel guitars and fiddles, some Stones and Beatles influences, some punk energy--all the songs are different, which makes the band hard to define.

Wilco songs fit with all those other good Midwestern roots rock bands such as Old 97's, Martin Zellar & the Hardways and the Bottle Rockets. And Tweedy has this world-weary voice that makes it sound as though he's walking from gig to gig on this tour.

"I try to write every day; it's a 24-hour-a-day thing," he said. "Ideas, big or small, great or stupid, I just write them down. Then when it comes time to make an album, I hope I have enough stuff."

Since the band has been touring for over a decade, they pretty much have the essentials of road survival pared to the bare necessities.

"Drugs and chicks work for us on the road," he said. "Just kidding. . . . Actually, we try to stay healthy, eat right, work out, run, take vitamins and do productive things. Wilco is a weird band, we have a library on board our bus and we trade books. But now that I'm a father--my son is 2--that makes it harder to go on the road."

Now for the important stuff: Is Sheryl Crow married? Would she wear a Wilco T-shirt?

"I don't think she's married. Sometimes she wears a Wilco T-shirt. She's really nice to us--for some reason, she likes us. Everything's great, we're getting ready to make another record. It's only rock 'n' roll, but it's only life, too."

BE THERE

Sheryl Crow, Wilco and Michael Penn at the Santa Barbara County Bowl, 6:30 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: $29 and $24. Call 962-7411.

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