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Wilco Kicks Off Sold Out Bay Area Concerts in San Jose

In Music
Wilco plays the San Jose Civic on Saturday, Jan. 28.

Wilco plays the San Jose Civic on Saturday, Jan. 28.

The San Jose Civic hosts Wilco Saturday, January 28, for the first of the band’s three sold-out Bay Area Shows.

A lot of rock stars want to be outlaws, but their heroes tend to be tragic cowboys. Gram Parsons and Townes Van Zandt are just two of the ill-fated Americana icons to get their own cults when dissatisfied alt-rockers started covering their songs.

Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy was almost one of those brilliant country-rock train wrecks. As part of Uncle Tupelo in the late ’80s, he was on his way to being the classic better-to-burn-out-than-fade-away story.

Even as they defined a new alt-country sound, Uncle Tupelo had the worst luck imaginable, with label disputes, band infighting and Tweedy’s alcohol problems just a few of the problems that piled up over the course of four studio albums. The band’s breakup was infamously brutal, with a paper trail of lawsuits and tales of bandmates behaving badly. Jay Farrar left to start Son Volt, while Tweedy kept the rest of the group together as Wilco.

Looking back now, it’s amazing that almost 20 years after the breakup, Tweedy seems to have just now found some drama-free happiness in his career. After Wilco’s 1995 debut A.M., he gained a new level of success with the near-perfect alt-country record Being There in 1996, and 1999’s Summerteeth, an equally masterful record that explored a new pop sound. In between, he got another boost from Mermaid Avenue, the album of Woody Guthrie sounds that Wilco recorded with Billy Bragg.

What Tweedy and Wilco had done in a larger sense was make country music cool for the indie-rock set, ushering in an era of rootsy chic that would see singer-songwriters like Bright Eyes, Iron & Wine and Andrew Bird thrive.

But the revolving band line-up hadn’t changed, and neither did the label troubles. In 2001, the music world was stunned when Reprise Records refused to release Wilco’s feverishly anticipated album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, claiming it wasn’t commercial enough, and dropping the band immediately. To this day, it’s considered one of the record industry’s all-time stupidest moves. When the album finally came out, it was another game-changer for Wilco, quickly becoming their best-selling record and finding its way onto critics’ best-of lists for 2002.

Ten years later, Tweedy finally has stability, keeping together the same Wilco lineup for an unheard-of three albums now. And their latest, last year’s The Whole Love, is possibly the best Wilco album since Being There. Part alt-country, part rock and roll, part experimentation, it captures all the qualities that have made Wilco great in equal quantities. It also captures Tweedy sounding like he’s finally having fun, and considering this guy’s history, that’s maybe the most remarkable thing of all.

Wilco plays the San Jose Civic on Saturday, January 28 at 8pm; tickets are $45.
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