They're not a "jam band" -- far from it, really -- but Wilco have established themselves as one of the most dynamic live acts on the planet, a reputation that's cemented by this razor-sharp two-disc set. Recorded over a four-day stand in the band's de facto hometown of Chicago, Kicking Television
documents the gelling of what leader Jeff Tweedy
has called the band's best lineup ever, and it suggests that further highs are yet to come. Wilco set the tone early on with a precise, pounding version of "Misunderstood" that gains extra tension from Tweedy's hyperextension of the "nothing" chant at the song's core. From there, the sextet explode in all sorts of directions, with much of the adventurousness coming from guitarist Nels Cline
, who uses "Spiders (Kidsmoke)" as a launching pad for his gripping free-jazz excursions. His presence has clearly altered Wilco's general makeup, but Tweedy remains at the helm of the ship, what with the subtle (and not-so-subtle) changes he puts his compositions through here. Radical reworkings include "The Late Greats," which sheds its skronk-dappled skin to reveal a high-lonesome honky-tonk core, and "Jesus, Etc.," on which the studio version's cerebral musings are lightened with a late-night looseness redolent of the brandy snifter. On songs like "Heavy Metal Drummer" (probably the closest thing Wilco has to an instant gratification anthem), Tweedy lets his inner pop purveyor take charge -- a state of affairs that keyboardist Mikael Jorgensen is particularly important in shoring up. More than anything else, Kicking Television
is a document of a group of musicians so comfortable in their own (collective) skin that they play as if the audience wasn't even there -- a method that proves far, far more crowd-pleasing than it sounds.