As Wilco’s studio output remains constant in release, there is a widening gap between their earlier works and the last couple albums. Thankfully, they have remained as voracious as ever on the road and consistently put on one of the best live shows in rock and roll. I’ve seen them three times at different points in their career and love how much energy is injected into every song. There have been live albums of Wilco before, but starting last month they have made it much easier to get your hands on concerts, days after performance.
Taking a cue from other bands that generate a live cult following because of their ability to stay ‘fresh’ on the road by playing varying set lists while maintaining a deep familiarity with their back catalogue, Wilco has released high quality recordings of many of their Summer concerts for public consumption. Wilco, unlike Pearl Jam and Phish, are releasing random shows in a series called “Roadcase“, which at the time of writing, has six volumes. Five shows from July and one from June are available from the Wilco Store in three downloadable formats: 256kbps MP3 for $9, ALAC for $12 and FLAC for $12. Not a bad deal, considering each concert has over 25 songs. I would recommend checking out a couple of the shows as Tweedy and co. mix up their sets quite a bit, but getting all six seems overkill except for the die-hard fan.
I’m currently checking out Roadcase #3, which was recorded live in Brooklyn, NY on July 23, 2012. It was the first of two shows Wilco played in Brooklyn and the band is in fine form (when are they not?). I have a few things I look for when listening to a live Wilco concert: 1) ‘I am Trying to Break Your Heart’ being on the setlist (this used to be in every show, but is only on 2 Roadcase shows so far!); 2) a healthy dose of songs from Being There (including a least one of the great disc openers ‘Sunken Treasure’ or ‘Misunderstood’); 3) A couple rarities; 4) And all or any of the following: ‘Poor Places’, ‘Shot in the Arm’ or ‘Reservations’. Every show covers a couple of these preferences, Roadcase 3 covers them all.
Initial impressions have created a desire to see Wilco live in concert. It’s been over five years and if these shows are any indication Wilco has not missed a beat. The songs from The Whole Love really come into their own when played live and Tweedy’s ferocious guitar playing gives them a new life when compared to their studio counterparts. Back catalogue songs don’t sound tired and old, even though they’ve been played hundreds of times. Overall, these shows are the best you’re going to get when you can’t see Wilco live. If they start releasing more this could be an expensive endeavour.