Wilco, Nick Lowe | Lyric Opera House | Rock, Pop, Etc | Chicago Reader

Wilco, Nick Lowe Early Warnings (Music) Member Picks Recommended Sold Out (Music) Soundboard

When: Mon., Dec. 12, 7:30 p.m. 2011

"Art of Almost," the shape-shifting opening track from The Whole Love (dBpm), is as experimental as anything Wilco has ever done—its analog-synth gurgles, resonant cimbalom strikes, orchestral Mellotron chords, and guitar fuzz all spread luxuriantly yet insistently across the terse, motorik grooves of drummer Glenn Kotche. Like Wilco's best music, the song mates a beautiful, accessible melody to a multitiered construction. It's an epic, energizing way to start an album—when guitarist Nels Cline starts shredding, it turns into a high-velocity rocker—and it reaffirms that Wilco are holding fast to their desire to push their music into new places. Nothing else on the album matches "Art of Almost" for spirit or adventure, but even on the basic, hooky garage rocker "I Might," Mikael Jorgensen's faux-Augie Myers organ licks are juxtaposed with delicate glockenspiel, lacerating slide-guitar stabs, warm synth washes, and a catchy melody from Jeff Tweedy that would sound at home on a mid-70s Wings album. The middle of the album veers toward the sort of easygoing, conventional rock that the band has been falsely accused of playing for years—from the Randy Newman-ish prerock pop amble of "Capitol City" to the pretty folk-rock ballad "Open Mind"—but even then, little flourishes in the arrangements or writing prevent the songs from fitting any kind of blueprint. The Whole Love closes with the ballad "One Sunday Morning," where piano and guitar embellishments lap at Tweedy's sorrowful meditation on family discord, so that the sweetness in the music soothes the pain in the words.

On his first album in four years, The Old Magic (Yep Roc), Nick Lowe acts his age, aiming for elegance and poignancy instead of brashness and ire. "I wanted to embrace getting older," the 62-year-old singer-songwriter recently told Nick Paumgarten of the New Yorker, "rather than squeeze myself into tight jeans and white trainers to show that I'm still down with the kids." The opening ballad, "Stoplight Roses," sets the tone—Lowe notices that he can no longer worm his way out of his indiscretions by buying his lover wilted flowers on a street corner ("That little-boy-lost look / That used to work so well / Doesn't anymore"). Many of the tunes acknowledge a similar reality—as we drift into our autumn years, nothing is as resilient or lenient as it used to be. The theme surfaces in the decaying home that stands in for a broken relationship in "House for Sale," then again in "I Read a Lot," where the singer struggles to cope with postbreakup loneliness. Lowe remains obsessed with American music, but these days he favors its urbane forms—from Nat King Cole-style balladry to early R&B cookers—and his superb band handles the arrangements with exquisite restraint. Best of all, the intelligence and melodic sophistication of his work have held steady despite the shift in temperament. —Peter Margasak See also Tuesday. Lowe opens. Wilco also plays Thu 12/15, Fri 12/16, and Sun 12/18.

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