I’ve not heard the new Wilco album, but I find advanced reports a bit saddening if it’s true that they’ve reverted back to the pleasant, but hardly life-changing alt-country of their early days. True, both Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and A Ghost Is Born managed to alienate some long term fans, but the group gained a new found respect in many quarters as they melded country, avant-rock and electronics to create something truly unique. I’ve seen the band twice, and two more contrasting gigs would be hard to imagine. In June 1999 at Manchester University I was driven to distraction by a band who seemed to want to be the Rolling Stones circa Exile On Main Street, but succeeded only to bore me rigid. Five years on, at Glasgow’s QMU, the group put on one of the best shows I’ve seen in my life. The set was eclectic in the extreme, ranging from wistful country ballads, sweet pop and raging avant-rock monsters. There was a palpable joy to the whole thing, and the crowd instantly “got it” leading to a fantastic celebratory atmosphere. One of the major differences was the addition of Nels Cline, a man who can get sounds out of his guitar that most players could only imagine. And few songs in Wilco’s canon showcase Cline’s talents better than “Spiders (Kidsmoke)”.
The song is an epic groove built on a motorik beat reminiscent of Neu’s “Hallogallo” or Can’s “Mother Sky”. The lyrics seem to be indictment of call centre culture, although quite what “This recent rash of kidsmoke / All these telescopic poems” means is beyond me. But what makes the track is the combination of the glorious central riff and the guitar interplay between Tweedy and Cline. It is bloody long, but for me it can be as long as they want it to be, because I could listen to those duelling guitars all night. Like Television’s “Marquee Moon” before it, “Spiders (Kidsmoke)” is rock as hard bop – improvised around a basic structure; always returning to the central riff when things begin to get a little too out there.