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London Shepherds Bush Empire

Bands of [a]Wilco[/a]'s quality rarely maintain this level of perfection for long; history dictates they inevitably burn out or fade away...

London Shepherds Bush Empire

Warning! [a]Wilco[/a]'s new 'Summerteeth' album is a complete break with the past. Gone are the velocity and distortion of Jeff Tweedy's previous outfit, [a]Uncle Tupelo[/a]; in their place is a more traditional assault on country rock.

As a hip young NME reader, alarm bells should be ringing in your brain right now, and panicky recollections of the hollow, snoozy, faux-cowboy denim-rawk of The Eagles blocking out all coherent thought. But while Wilco might betray a love for the kind of '70s AOR icons who were first against the wall when the punk revolution hit, their charm and assuredness of touch makes these sounds emotionally (if not culturally) immediate. Especially live, where their eclecticism feels just right.

Tweedy, dressed in workers' denim with clipped hair and snubby-sexy features, oozes confidence and a bluntly charismatic onstage manner. Maybe that's why we don't blink as the Stonesy raunch of 'Monday Morning' segues into the chokingly sad acoustic lurch of 'In A Jar' (with its shocking final line, [I]"She begs me not to hit her"[/I]), into the dazzling power-pop of 'I Got You', into the burrito funk of 'Can't Stand It', into the anthemic good ol' boys swing of 'Outta Mind Outta Sight'... At no point does this flurry of styles seem like a succession of ill-fitting wardrobe changes.

Americana, for [a]Wilco[/a], isn't a genre they play in or a movement they pay respectful homage to. It feels like the only music they could ever play, pouring endlessly from them like spring from the source. And though it shouldn't, this matters. Their easy, able musicianship in no small amount helps, eschewing both detuned experimentalism and flashy exhibition in favour of a redemptive, rough-hewn competency and quiet inspiration.

They won't ever trouble us with the shock of the new, but sometimes you need something which just feels right. Bands of [a]Wilco[/a]'s quality rarely maintain this level of perfection for long; history dictates they inevitably burn out or fade away. Catch them while they burn their brightest.

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