The Art of Noise

I'm the boy with the poetry powerWilco at Hill Auditorium

October 10, 2004, Ann Arbor


It was Wilco channeled through King Crimson channeled through Blue Cheer performed by Wilco.


Remember the alt-country label applied to the band? Think of this performance as being one that brought ctl-alt-delete to mind.


Wilco’s music, especially with its latest, generally unremarked disc (A Ghost Is Born), can be characterized as having layers of sound that are aurally opaque. Imagine exceedingly thin fabric. Layer upon layer and soon there is what seems to be a solid structure. That wonderful combination was replaced in this performance by chunks of some adamantine material.


Intricacy gives way to cacophony.


Nels Cline, the recently added guitarist and all around sound-generator, is a better guitar player than Tweedy. Remarkable. Amazing. Providing filigrees of sound in, around and through what would be ordinarily thought of as the “Wilco sound,” accentuating it in ways that make the familiar sound new. He’d better not throw away his resume.


Why is it necessary to have a screen behind the band that alternates between images that would be appropriate for “Hullabaloo,” Animal Planet, and black-and-white footage that cries out for treatment by the denizens of MST3K?


When all the members of the band sans two (Tweedy and Stirratt) are playing, in effect, static, during “Via Chicago,” is it necessary to “show” that by making the image on the aforementioned screen appear to be breaking up? Wouldn’t we “get” it?


Hill Auditorium is renowned for its acoustics. Why did Tweedy’s vocals, for the most part, sound muddy when you could hear every utterance of Tracee Mae Miller, of the opening act, Blanche, even though death bed confessions in bad Civil War movies (vide Blanche’s seemingly Cold Mountain-inspired shtick) are more powerfully projected?


The auditorium seats 4,163. It seemed to be packed. The audience was malleable.


Something in my ears, bloodier than blood.


Glorious Noise used to have a link on the Wilco website. It was removed. Chances are, it won’t be resurrected.

Be sure to check out Glorious Noise’s previous reports on Wilco.

43 thoughts on “The Art of Noise”

  1. Did you have a head cold or something while you were at the show? That review just seems like you were a bit crabby and felt like pulling out your thesaurus. I was at Hill on Sunday night and I disagree with your review (though I do agree that Nels Cline was amazing). I thought that Wilco gave a great performance. “Intricacy gives way to cacophony”? Hardly… I think that 99% of the people in the auditorium thought that it was an amazing show. Some of the people around me even commented that they preferred the live versions of some of the AGIB songs to those on the album. Maybe I’ve gone to too many shows in bars around Detroit with awful sound, but I thought that the sound at Hill was great – I had no problem hearing anything from the center of the mezzanine. As for the visuals, they complemented the songs without becoming the focus of the concert…

  2. I think you got this one wrong man. They were tight, and still playful. They were rocking and yet contemplative. I thought the sound was terrific, and the video was a terrific complement to the show. I understand if you don’t like the new record, but let’s not take issue with the material and then rail on the performance of material you’re not fond of. Sorry you didn’t enjoy it, but I had a great time and I am bit befuddled why a Wilco fan wouldn’t enjoy it.



  3. Yeah man, this show was great. You must be the most irritated person in the world to not have enjoyed it. Wilco had amazing energy, Tweedy’s voice sounded strong, the band complemented Tweedy and gave each other space. The visuals were interesting. I have to admit the crowd did suck a little, I was in the balcony and most people were seated during most of the show, but otherwise it was just amazing.

  4. stephen… i actually enjoyed the candor in your comments regarding the concert. i’ve been hesitant to pick up tickets to their chicago appearance, but finally did so last night. i appreciate the creative risks the band (er, i mean tweedy) has been taking with each successive recording, but this most recent one has left me somewhat alienated. is that to say that i’m a bitter old school wilco fan that longs for the twang? hardly. in fact, the new album presents quite possibly my all time favorite wilco tune, hummingbird, and this touring lineup is probably their strongest and accomplished to date (of course, i still miss seeing bennett playing tweedy’s foil). i’ve heard some boots of shows from earlier this year and i’ve received some mixed opinions from other wilco friends of mine (both old and new fans alike). i’ve found myself enjoying the shows less and less as time goes by for various reasons, tantamount to any is that the shows have just gotten less playful and carefree and become more dour self aware. the shows used to offer a chance to see wilco deconstruct the songs watch the band participate in a great deal of interplay with the crowd. now that’s come to pass. though, i am curious to see how nels cline will lend his improvisational technique to tweedy’s post rock ardor. i’ll try to put my prejudices aside and walk into the auditorium on the first night of their chicago stand with an open mind and hopefully still come out a fervent fan.

  5. I can’t say that I like your review, but you have a right to your opinion. One thing though: complaining about the Glono link in a show review seems wrong.

  6. malleable? couldn’t it just be possible those 4,162 people really dug the show? From where I was on the floor, everyone loved it. Granted, I don’t know if they knew exactly what to think at the beginning of Spiders, but by the end of the song, they couldn’t contain the roar.

    Considering most of the seated venue shows lately have been like pulling hens teeth to get people to stand, this crowd was on it’s feet from the dimming of the lights, and it wasn’t because the seats were uncomfortable. I think people are excited to see such a great line-up, a charged show with fantastic musicians and fresh songs. I looked up a few times too, and the balconies were buzzing. Hhhmmmm…

    You certainly need to clean your ears – the sound was outstanding at any square inch in the venue. not too loud, just crisp and clear and powerful.

    But, with your last line, I can see why your review is the way it is….

    write to the webmaster, man, don’t dog the band’s set.

  7. wow. That was the worst written review I have seen in some time. To me, this review is from a bitter man. What show were you at my friend? From the moment the band went onstage everyone was on their feet and continued to be up until the very end. The band seemed tight, the sound was great. I have seen wilco many times and this line-up is by far the strongest. And maybe there is a reason that the link is gone. With articles like this I completly understand.


  8. Your head must have been somewhere. I was four seats off the right wall and in row U and still the sound was great. As I discussed the show with six companions afterward, all of whom came away impressed, every one of us said the venue sounded terrific. The band rocked on old and new tunes and had the crowd jumping. Get over wishing for the old Wilco back and open up.

  9. “Get over wishing for the old Wilco back and open up.”

    What in this review makes you think Mac is longing for the “old Wilco?” I think this is just a tired old slogan fans drag out when someone isn’t all over Tweedy’s dick.

  10. Having written the “worst concert review ever,” I hardly know where to begin. Perhaps I ought to go out on top. After all, that’s quite an accomplishment.

    First of all: When is the value of a concert predicated by the number of people standing during the concert? And one more thing about that: Assume that you are on the main floor standing. What is the likelihood that you are able to judge how many people are standing up several rows behind you unless you are a member of an NBA team? I was on the mezzanine, and I can assure those of you on the floor that not “everyone” was on their feet from the start. Far from it.

    Second: Why did none of you compare the sound of Blanche to that of Wilco? I stand by the statement that vocally, the mixing was horrible. Perhaps my head was up my ass, but it makes me wonder where some of your ears were.

    Third: Gee, I never realized that GloNo was a fanzine, bowing to artists that we may respect with a subservience that would make the people at Tiger Beat jealous.

    Fourth: The reference to the deleted link had absolutely no animus behind it but was to simply indicate that perhaps Wilco can’t take criticism. Which I guess aligns just fine with some of its fans.

  11. Personally, I don’t idolize Tweedy and I don’t feel compelled to defend his every action against criticism… But, I think most us thoroughly enjoyed the concert and, right or wrong, took the tone of your review as “no one in their right mind could have thought that this was a good show.”

  12. kj: I thought the tone of the review was “there were several things that I found to be lacking in the show, many of which are itemized.” The piece was about the specific event, not a questioning of the potential institutionalization of anyone on or off the stage.

    By the way: I happen to enjoy King Crimson and Blue Cheer.

    There is almost a creepy vox populi notion to many of the reactions to my piece, which seem to say: “We liked the concert. Hell, we were standing. Some of us were dancing. And there are more of us then there are of you. Ispo facto, it is good.”

    I’ll bet that there is more standing, dancing, singing, etc. going on at any given Hillary Duff show. So where does that get us?

  13. I think the problem people have with your review is that you spent so much of a pretty perfunctory piece yapping about something other than the actual concert. The few morsels of relevent content were lost in a sea of bitching about the crowd or the video screen. If you don’t want to write a review, maybe leave that to someone more willing or capable?

    That doesn’t mean it’s bad because it’s negative, it’s bad because it’s crap. On the plus side, maybe you can get a job at Pitchfork, they’re probably hiring right about now.

  14. The video screen was part of the “actual concert.” And as for a “sea of bitching about the crowd”:


    The auditorium seats 4,163. It seemed to be packed. The audience was malleable.

    If that is either bitching or more than a small body of water, then it seems the Wilco fans are way too sensitive.

  15. mac, your review also suffers from from the way it’s written. Not just your opinion. Why do people writing rock reviews on the Internet have to fall victim to ironic wit and artsy-fartsy pseudo stylisms?

    “Intricacy gives way to cacophony”

    huh? wha?

    It’s rock music for fuck’s sake. This aint Amadeus, man.

    Is there a glono decoder ring available to decipher this?

  16. “If that is either bitching or more than a small body of water, then it seems the Wilco fans are way too sensitive.”

    Wait until you flog Jay Farrar, now HIS fans can bitch up a storm!

  17. For the first time in a long time, I’m not going to see Wilco when they come to town. I’d decided that before I read the review but Mac’s words cemented that opinion.

    It may not be the best written review of all time but it’s an honest opinion and it shocks me that most of the comments are telling him he’s wrong. What? How is someone’s opinion right or wrong?

    I appreciate a good knock against the new Wilco. Seriously, some of Tweedy’s drone fucking is getting a little over the top.

  18. Aw, Prop, you’re missing out my friend! I enjoyed what I heard at Irving Plaza in June so much, I’m planning another Wilco road trip down the west coast from Vancouver to Cali in November. … Hey, hitting the open road is half the fun!

    As for Mac’s article, let it go people. I honestly can’t understand what all the fuss is about.

  19. So, maybe they had an off night. Maybe they do get carried away with the drone stuff sometimes. Maybe they’re not perfect. I only get to a couple shows a year (If I’m lucky!), and this will be my first chance to see them headline. Nothing about this review makes me doubt I’m going to have a great time.

  20. You know, I was really not into seeing them this time around for the same reasons. I’ve been at Wilco shows for a long time – even during the post-911 new lineup at Town Hall in 01, which, in my mind, was the beginning of the end of my enjoyment of these shows. It just wasn’t there anymore, not at Town Hall, not at Summerstage, not at IP. But last week I changed my mind. It’s a different Wilco, as everyone says, but a really tight band and I have to say, at Radio City was the first time I really started to ‘get’ AGIB.

  21. Mac, here’s the funny thing about your review (in my mind). When you said: “Intricacy gives way to cacophony” I agreed, and I think in fact that is the point of many of the “noise experiments” in the new line-up. Who said cacophony was bad? Especially when the lyrical content has to do with identity/subjectivity. Sooner or later, all the philosophy about human subjectivity or free will turns to cacophony, the song becomes other than what it is, dig? Also: “Something in my ears, bloodier than blood” Again I say ideed! In the tradition (though perhaps not the degree) of avant-garde art, Wilco serves up something beyond hearing, bleeding, wretching, fucking: It’s Tweedy artfully rendering a panic attack and it’s Tweedy saying there is no Tweedy… The best thing that can come of all this rankling is that a few Wilco fans might read some Nietzsche, listen to some Cage, or look into some Duchamp. I appreciated the aphoristic style of your review and wonder if you realize what a compliment you’ve paid to this fine group of artists. By the way, Scotty, “It’s not Amadeus”??? c’mon brother, let’s not do the high/low culture divide thing. That shit is dead. I find exactly NO difference between the intricacy, verve, or possibilities for experience and interpretation in a Wilco song and that of the powdered wig set. So fuck you Mac and I love you and all this means as much as your review, which means as much as the show and the songs themselves…only what we would have it mean. I was at the show and in many ways, I am still there….. signing off from the rust belt…

  22. I saw Wilco in Baltimore, and thought it was a good show. But one thing that detracts from enjoyment—and I find this occurs with many groups that consistently get more popular—is the inflated ticket price.

    As much as I love Wilco, $50 is an awful lot to pay for 2 hours of my time for ANY group. For $50 I’m expecting something spectacular, and when I get something satisfactory, it leaves a sort of buyer’s guilt. I think $50 is about the limit I’d spend on a single show for a single group.

    It’s not Wilco’s fault at all, but it’s certainly something that plays into the factors behind whether I think a show was worth the travel time and money.

  23. Ryan: I am certainly glad that someone actually read what I wrote and wasn’t looking for a Wilco set list and a fawning take on what occurred. I must say that I was starting to think that Wilco “fans” would be better off spending more time with a book and less time at concerts given their notion of my perceived textual “difficulty.” I’d have thought that given the fact that the show was in Ann Arbor and not some forlorn place where people don’t cotton to that there book learnin’ would have meant that there were actually people there who thought about things a little bit and weren’t looking for some USA Today approach to the music. Thanks for taking the time to consider what is actually there.

  24. For a record the reviewer deems as “unremarked”, this site sure has taken notice of A Ghost is Born.

    Unremarked. That’s where you, the reviewer, lose credibility and instead come across as having an agenda… evidenced further by the displaying of the former Glono link on Wilco’s site.

    It’s cool to diss Wilco now. Congratulations for being slightly ahead of the curve. Sorry you couldn’t enjoy the music.

  25. Flip, do you really think we’ve talked that much about Ghost here on GLONO? I think we’ve been fairly quiet on the subject, especially since its release. And especially compared to YHF.

    And really, is this review really much of a dis? Which of Mac’s 11 points do you consider explicitly negative? Nos. 6 and 7 take issue with the background graphics. No. 8 takes issue with the soundguy. No. 3 could be interpreted as a backhanded compliment, but other than that, there’s no straight up dissing. Is there? Did I miss something?

  26. Yes, Jake, I really do think this site has talked plenty about A Ghost is Born. However, I’m not about to dig into the message board or articles archive to find every post that could back-up my point. And I said nothing about YHF.

    I actually found this site through the aforementioned link on Wilco’s website. I’ve been reading here ever since, but this article is the first time I’ve ever felt compelled to rebut.

    Maybe I should have been more clear about the “diss” because I think it’s the author’s tone that’s catching that new trend.

    Like number 5, for instance. Such a clever, bitter allusion to Tweedy possibly being intimidated by any talent greater than his own.

    Perhaps it’s just me, but I don’t think that comment has any business being in a music review. And I’m just speaking for myself, but I expect such lowbrow, off-putting scribbling from pitchfork, not Glorious Noise.

  27. Fair enough. Coincidentally, check out this article that we ran on this very day three years ago: [url=]Wilco Worries[/url] by Jeff Sabatini, October 18, 2001.

    You know how time fades away…

  28. I remember reading, and not being offended by, that article.

    Sadly, I’ve only had the pleasure of seeing taped footage of Jay Bennett in the band — Austin City Limits, Snow Job ’97 (on MuchMusic in Canada), the IATTBYH DVD. But I’d take the current lineup over the four-piece anyday…

    You can’t miss nothing that you never had…

  29. i have seen Wilco play live in all of its incarnations. I am not the biggest fan of A Ghost Is Born, but when i saw them play the new songs live at the 9:30 club on June 9th it was — by far — the best Wilco show I have ever seen. Mac, your opinion is valid and should not be disregarded. I just hope your bashing didn’t turn away anyone from seeing an amazing show.

  30. Hey, speaking of “unremarked,” here is an interesting analysis of A Ghost is Born: [url=]Less Than You Think… Or Maybe More[/url] by Chuck Klosterman.

  31. Jake and I saw the current line-up in a warm-up show for this tour in Dekalb, Illinois. The venue was the smallest I’ve seen them play in years and it was fantastic. I have seen every incarnation of the band in every size venue you can imagine and I agree that the current team is best.

    Now, like I said, this was a stripped down show in a small venue. It was before the tour had even launched, so I didn’t see any of the additional show elements Mac mentioned.

  32. whoa nelly! what side of the jaded bed did you get off on? obviously not the right one. i appreciate your opinion yet disagree at the same time which makes for nasty bush/kerry politics. maybe it was an off night at ann arbor. i don’t know since i wasn’t there. but i have seen them twice this year, Bonnaroo and Milwaukee, and walked away impressed both times.

    maybe you should stick to listening to snow patrol to find your emo.

    just a thought.

  33. “stick to listening to snow patrol to find your emo”

    Ha! Mac was seeing the Faces at Cobo Arena and getting struck by chunks of the Who’s equipment back before those emo brats were even conceived. Emo! I trust that Mac knows a good rock show when he sees one.

  34. I saw Wilco at the Meyerhoff in Baltimore and I was totally blown away. I’d seen them in Towson in 1999 and it didn’t even compare. The new lineup is the best by far…and it leaves the past incarnations in the dust. I’ve actually seen emails and reviews where people have complained “why does every song have to end in noise”??? I’ve also compared it to seeing Sonic Youth “lite” and I mean that in a good way. If you’re not “getting it” all I can say is you’re getting old. Mark T.

  35. Oh, I get it now: If you don’t get “noise,” then you’re clearly too old. Perhaps the obverse makes more sense: If you “get” noise, then perhaps you haven’t become sufficiently discerning and you’re listening with comparatively innocent ears.

    By the way: there have long been bands that have pulled off noise with aplomb, such as the Fripp-Belew based King Crimson mentioned in my first point way up there.

    While Tweedy & the Gang do a masterful job in their recordings manipulating sound (yes, even on A Ghost Is Born) it is a far different thing than seeing (hearing) how long feedback can be sustained in a live performance. If that’s all there is, then let’s break out the Jimi Hendrix black discs and hear how feedback is really done.

  36. Mac, For the record, I’m not a youngster……….I’m 45. I also didn’t mean to insult anyone, but I meant noise in the context of the songs…..not just noise for the sake of noise. There is a difference. I was listening to YHF the other day and these two albums connect with each other very well…..with YHF being the “blueprint”, if you will, to AGIB……Mark T.

  37. Mark: No insult taken. It’s all about the give-and-take.

    Point three addresses what is heard on the discs vs. what I heard in A2. No one seemed to notice that I called the former “wonderful.” And that I don’t say anything about AGIB beyond noting that it is “unremarked”–let’s face it, YHF got lots of run everywhere.

  38. While we all enjoy reading our own posting of the merits (or demerits) attributed to Tweedy and the current WILCO incarnation, I hope we can all remember . . .it’s about the music man. If you don’t like it, don’t buy the music.

    While I am a Wilco fan, I’m not opposed to those whose tastes lean away from the band. One man’s music is another’s (insert derogatory noun here).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *