If ever we needed the drummer from the world’s greatest rock and roll band, this would be the moment. Janet Weiss, of Sleater-Kinney, and her side project, Quasi, were at the Knitting Factory Friday night, and we hoped to banish our ghosts. Of course, getting there means facing the empty sky and streets and the unabatable stench from the still-smoking mass grave 10 blocks away (for the first time, the air quality is better inside). A triple bill of indie rock duos may not seem the best way to find transcendence, but we’d already been to the Loser’s Lounge Bowie show, and it’s now a civic duty to patronize the long-suffering Knit.
We wondered if we’d done the right thing: Martsch heirs Magic Magicians (guitar and drums) lacked oomph, and while old soul Mark Robinson’s tone poems are lovely, if we wanted soothing we’d be home with a blanket. We were counting on Quasi to have it both ways; Sam Coomes, Weiss’s sloppy seconds, constructs delicious melodies and then bashes the hell out of them with his Roxichord, a monster-mashing electric organ. But were we ready for his sardonic piss-takes on death, love, and self-satisfaction? It didn’t look good: They’re from out of town, and they filled the house with untroubled kids; they had problems with the sound, and Coomes complained that the lit stage was “like an inferno”; and when they finally got going, they made a noise that sounded just like a jet engine.
Maybe I was hypersensitive. My last trip downtown had been August 31, when my love and I walked across the Brooklyn Bridge to get married at City Hall. My first day back to work at Legal Aid, across the street from the WTC, would have been September 12 (everyone got out OK, thanks, but they still won’t let us in). A few hours before the show, we began staffing a table at the Disaster Center, just down Leonard Street from the Knit, for clients affected by the events of 9-11. As Magic Magicians started, maybe half a dozen people were still waiting there for emergency food stamps and Medicaid.
But after a minute or two of that plane noise, Weiss ripped up “The Iron Worm” (“I don’t want to suffer or cause no suffering/but then again, I don’t care”), and Coomes jumped on his keyboard, and we felt a lot better. They dedicated a new one, “Good Time Rock and Roll,” to New York City, and it was actually cheery (“I’m a long shot, you know it’s true/but I just might be the thing for you”). Next was their masterpiece, “Sea Shanty,” which starts mournfully (“The captain was rightly murdered by the crew/But now they don’t know what to do/Drifting on the murky Sargasso of the everyday”), until Weiss launches a rat-a-tat tempo change and Coomes bashes a guitar and everyone in the crowd at least bobs their head. We danced. Thanks, team. —Josh Goldfein
States of Grace
Listening to Wilco’s in-label-limbo masterpiece, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, over the past month has been a calming influence at a time when one has been desperately needed. (Hear it for yourself at Wilcoweb.com.) Like history’s folk-rock bell, the album’s stream-of-consciousness phrasing and roots-Radiohead pastiche rings in the fade of the American Century on terms at once sharp and grand. Yet Foxtrot also carries the gentleness of a hug, eschewing pomp for a knowing melancholia. In fact, Wilco main man Jeff Tweedy has captured the state of a nation’s broken heart with such unwitting grace you’d think he’d been tinkering in Woody Guthrie’s archive for the past couple of years.
The new songs were kept to a minimum at Wilco’s Town Hall performance on September 28, though the album’s keen sense of folk modernism and textural combinations remained the show’s guide. Tweedy spent the early part loudly plucking at an acoustic guitar, echoing Willie Nelson’s live sound: Droning and spare strings mixed with Leroy Bach’s piano, organ, and analog keys and Glenn Kotche’s percussion effects, dressing up tradition in expressionistic, decidedly un-twangy ways. When midway through, a purist dared scream for “rock and roll,” Tweedy—who’d just plugged in—warned that he’d “put the electric guitar away so fast it’ll make your head spin.” Promises, promises.
Of course, for all such “threats,” Tweedy’s not enough of an elitist to disregard the desires of the WFUV faithful. The 40 minutes of encores were stacked with sing-alongs of alternate-universe hits—the sturdy Cheap Trick-meets-Americana rock that has built Wilco’s rep as No Depression poster children—instigating the crowd to finally stand up and holler. This bar-band glow paled with the vision Tweedy seems currently bent on pursuing. But it did reiterate the notion that thriving and surviving rest as much on unadulterated, timeless release as on eloquent reflections of the moment. —Piotr Orlov
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 9, 2001