Glenn Kotche and Guest at Chicago’s Hideout Inn
As a kid, I never had much appreciation for abstract art. It seemed like just a lot of lines and splotches of color on canvass, or twisted metal and broken glass trying to be passed off as “sculpture.” It wasn’t until I was in 10th grade and I’d found a biography of Picasso that I started to realize what was going on. I saw Picasso as a classically trained artist who could paint portraits as vivid and realistic as a photograph but one who grew tired of the confines of fine art. He knew the rules and broke them. It was an awakening.
Friday night at my beloved Hideout found a room full of sleepers still trying to rub the gunk from their eyes as Glenn Kotche and Jeff Tweedy were packing up their gear after a 40 minute set of spastic percussion and caustic feedback.
The Hideout had a Wilco-heavy bill with John Stirratt’s Autumn Defense (See Jake Brown’s upcoming review of this great band) checking in with material from their new album and Kotche opening the night with an undisclosed performance. Being the drummer for Wilco, questions were bandied about as to what Kotche would do? A half-hour drum solo? Spoken word set to rhythms? Or would he have help? Rumors soon spread that he would indeed have help from none other than Jeff Tweedy.
Rumors of a Wilco members hanging at the Hideout will usually draw a small crowd on any night. An Autumn Defense show draws larger crowds of melodic-pop music lovers. A “secret” performance from Tweedy draws a packed house with dozens of California Stars lovers hoping to catch an intimate performance of their faves like those that long-time Wilco fans brag about in the Lounge Ax days. The place was abuzz with people high-fiving each other for finally getting to see one of these famed stripped down sets. They should be careful what they wish for.
Kotche took the stage with his un-announced accompaniment and without a word from either, locked into a set of unstructured, unrestrained noise.
The crowd was mostly obliging as a one minute of feedback stretched to three, but nervous jokes and furrowed brows soon surfaced and the groundlings began to stir.
“Can you dance to this?” a blonde to my right jokingly asked her beau.
“Number Nine,” a Beatle-hip scenester droned from the back.
Three minutes dragged to ten and conversation circles formed. Most people realized this was a night of avant-garde and resigned themselves to waiting for the next act and the fact that at least they can say they saw Tweedy up close. Still others held out, hoping this was an extended intro. meant to throw the audience off and that soon enough they’d be hearing the heartbreaking strains of Far Far Away and the rawk-stomp of Casino Queen. Surely, America’s pre-eminent songwriter will bless us with his songs!
God Bless Glenn Kotche and Jeff Tweedy for NOT playing any songs. Those folks on the countless message boards devoted to Wilco can rest assured that they did not play Hesitating Beauty for the one-millionth time. This was a night of art. Pure expression devoid of rules.
That’s not to say that Tweedy’s pop sensibilities didn’t pop up from time to time. There were enough riffs to make most hardened Classic Rock station manager grin and Kotche and Tweedy craftily raised and loosened the tension with swells and lulls of sonic pressure. But it was not a night of well-crafted country/folk balladry. In fact, as the screeching howled into the half-hour mark, already alienated No Depressioners around the world could be heard drawing a warm bath and getting out the razor strap.
Friday’s show may have been seen by some as self-indulgent, but Wilco has been struggling to shed the alt.country moniker for years. Tired of being pigeon-holed by an obsessed fan base hell bent on keeping them for their own, the Band who helped define the genre is growing out of its skin and alt.country Rumplestiltskins should wake up and smell the music.