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RECORD RACK

Singular landscape in rock country

November 20, 2005|Steve Hochman

Wilco

"Kicking Television: Live in Chicago" (Nonesuch)

* * * 1/2

IT'S funny when Wilco leader Jeff Tweedy sings the musical question, "Do you still like rock 'n' roll?" in "Misunderstood," which opens this in-concert collection -- and the fans respond with a rousing, affirmative cheer. Wilco arguably abandoned rock 'n' roll and, for that matter, alt-country, back in 1996 when it first recorded that song.

Since then, Tweedy and his shifting crew have taken elements of rock and country and recombined them in experiments that have, reasonably, gotten them dubbed the American Radiohead. But a few songs later in this two-disc set, recorded in May in the band's Chicago hometown, the pieces coalesce in "At Least That's What You Said" with the thunder of Neil Young and Crazy Horse. In other words: rock 'n' roll. But it's rock renewed.

This set both summarizes the band's decade-long history and showcases its latest, strongest lineup, with new member Nels Cline's array of guitarisms and noises illustrating Tweedy's emotional spectrum, and the crisp live settings adding an enticing sense of the moment.

It embraces both Tweedy's classicism and his refusal to settle for the familiar. Wilco is simply Wilco -- something this makes clearly understood.

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent). The albums are already released unless otherwise noted.

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