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Wilco’s Spanish honeymoon

When everyone loves your favourite band, you start to hanker for just a little bit of dissent.


Wilco: too good to be true - in Spain at least.

Has a rock band ever been as consistently lauded for its live performances as Wilco has by the Spanish press?

“At times they seemed more adventurous than Radiohead, at others, as legendary as Bob Dylan and The Band; as fast and powerful as The E Street Band….” gushed Pablo Gil of El Mundo after the Chicago band’s November 1 concert at Madrid’s Circo Price.

And Gil’s not the only gusher. In El País, Fernando Neira reported that “right now, one can’t imagine a more intense performance on a stage, no magic spell is as superlative as this.” Last year, a colleague of Neira’s on the same paper had told us: “It’s official: no one sounds better than Wilco.”

And state broadcaster RTVE was at the Circo Price too. Guess, what: they liked it: “Right now it’s hard to see a gig that is more perfect (sic), so absolutely overwhelming, and yet full of tenderness.”

As a long-time Wilco-lover who has seen the band live twice in Madrid and even wheedled an interview with front-man Jeff Tweedy basically just so that I could shake his hand, I’d broadly agree with all the above. But that doesn’t stop it grating. Talking about any band as “the best” or “hard to better” is always pretty foolish. How does RTVE’s writer know that my cousin’s prog-skiffle three-piece isn’t even better than Wilco?

Part of my irritation is undoubtedly due to the fact that nobody likes it when everybody else likes their favourite band. But even so, a bit of perspective would be welcome. So it was with surprise that I read Diego A. Manrique’s acidic column on Wilco in El País a couple of days after the Madrid concert.

Manrique’s beef with the boys from Chicago seems to be that they have become too perfect: everything seems so finely tuned and rehearsed that the spontaneity encapsulated by the likes of The Grateful Dead is absent:

Therein lies the key: Wilco have become a perfectly lubricated machine, designed to please and overwhelm. Everything is calculated to the nearest millimetre: those instrumental climaxes that are backed up with blinding explosions, those overbearing pre-records, the image of Tweedy as a tortured gnome who eventually condescends to speak to us, offering some flirty comments to the Spanish public.

I can’t help feeling this is a bit of a pose on Manrique’s part. It’s as if he’s so fed up of reading fawning, fan-boy tributes to Wilco, he’s decided to write something truly atheistic just to be different. But despite my pro-Wilco instincts, I don’t blame him for doing so.

Now we just have to wait for Spain’s anti-Wilco backlash. It could be a very long wait indeed.

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Published: Nov 7 2011
Category: Iberoblog, Featured, Music
Republication: Creative Commons, non-commercial
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