Monday, April 24, 2006

Space Is The Place

Despite my knee-jerk resistance to Jeff Tweedy's well-marketed anti-marketing aesthetic, the truth is that where I have demand, Wilco has supply. I want to resist the manicured indie-ironic chic they've perfected, I do, but then I hear Wilco's live cover of Charles Wright's "Comment (If Men Were Truly Brothers)" and I'm sold. It's transcendent.

I've long felt there's something disconertingly arid and tasteful about Wilco. But just as I'm edging away, Tweedy lunges out with enough believably ragged glory to break through. His morning-after crud voice is the stone continually thrown at his own well-built glass house. What makes this song work is heart. And love. And peace. But also ... space.

S. P. A. C. E.

Somewhere between the soundboard and the song, between the sun-baked Gibson and the tasteful organ, there's something magical about how Tweedy clears the air and lets a song breathe free. The instruments are clean, defined, each standing apart like modernist furniture, enhancing the negative space. The stage sounds so well-swept! When a kinky jazz riff or piano tinkle is placed, it's as if it's displayed on a clean, white bookcase. Tweedy has somehow fused gritty '70s soul with Architecture Digest.

I guess I actually like it arid.

Similarly, Jerry Garcia made excellent use of space in his cover of Dylan's "Senor (Tales of Yankee Power)," a sensationally brooding performance. The brilliance is in the loping pace, the stonerific expanses he lets open between notes, each instrument treading quietly through the canyon, as if on an old mule, saddle-bagged, with Don Quixote leading, slumped in his saddle and stewing on something tragic. A silent osprey overhead. The dull plodding of hooves echoing up the sheer face of the equalizer. Is that iron cross still hanging from around your neck?

The guitar riff at minute 5:41 - 5:48 should be framed and hung in the Museum of Modern Art: "Gypsy With a Broken Flag."

A band that has become positively addicted to the power of space and spacing: Spoon. This song - "I Turn My Camera On" - came up in my mix today and seemed to prove everything I was thinking. Here the bass pulse and the snap drum open an existential expanse that you could slap just about anything on and create vivid landscape. It's a one-trick pony (the same one Jerry's riding?) that just doesn't seem to give out.

Love As Laughter's "Pulsar Radio" makes my point quite literally. It's unafraid to slow its heart rate, breathe easy, unfurl all the natural majesty that is just free for the taking, if you'll let it be. You hear the stars at night and the coming out of the galaxies.


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