Wilco: Ashes Of American Flags

By: David Ball

Wilco: Ashes Of American Flags

Live DVDs don't come much better than Wilco's Ashes of American Flags. Recorded last year [Editor's note: This, along with a few other DVD reviews we are posting this month, was written last June and and only recently discovered to have fallen through the cracks, so by "last year" we mean '09.] during their year-long Sky Blue Sky US tour, the film mixes white hot concert footage with revealing behind-the-scenes band interviews of one America's most celebrated rock bands.

Although Christoph Green and former Fugazi drummer Brendan Canty fail in producing a clear narrative, there's a sense throughout that both filmmakers echo multi-instrumentalist Pat Sansone's concern regarding a "fading America". They shoot Wilco's bus as it cuts through a bleak rural landscape while Sansone takes Polaroids documenting urban decay. There's also a sobering scene with bassist John Stirratt as he reminisces about growing up in a small town near New Orleans that was abandoned almost overnight in the 1980s due to the "Walmartization" of America.  

Aside from these timely social issues, there's also a few interesting off-stage moments, especially with an introspective Jeff Tweedy. The Wilco singer-songwriter philosophizes about "representational art" and modern music while he later makes an argument that Hank Williams Sr. isn't much different than Madonna. However, the most intimate non-musical snapshots come from backstage. We see what wear-and-tear touring does to some of the band members: guitarist Nels Cline is seen lying on his back on a couch trying to relieve some pain due to having vertebras fusing together, drummer Glen Kotche has to ice his hands night after night and Tweedy is seen getting his throat examined. Overall though, the interview segments and road scenes act more as a set-up to the superiour concert footage. 

Fans won't be surprised that the veteran band is on top of their game throughout the 90-minute DVD; they've earned their reputation as one of the most powerful live bands and it helps that they can dip into an impressive songbook that dates back fifteen years. Ashes of American Flags captures Wilco performing in only five different venues from Cain's Ballroom in Tulsa, OK to Nashville's Ryman Auditorium, but all clearly hold a special meaning to the band mates, especially Tweedy and Stirratt since they are the only remaining original members. But this newly retooled Wilco lineup is the best yet. Throughout the film, new members Sansone and Cline breathe fire into some old favourites such as "Via Chicago" and "Heavy Metal Drummer", but Nels' fretwork in particular is utterly dazzling on the opening scene's sound-check performance of Yankee Foxtrot Hotel's "Ashes of American Flags" (filmed at an empty Cain's Ballroom) and during the stretched out jam at the end of Sky Blue Sky's "Handshake Drugs". Tweedy is in fine vocal form too, but he shows that he still can deliver some nice lead guitar work on a rocking "Kingpin". 

Ashes of American Flags is perfectly edited and beautifully shot HD, but the real technical star is the flawless 5.1 audio track. It's a testament that Mobile, AL's Civic Center sounds just as warm and textured as the famed acoustics in the Ryman. But if 90-minutes of prime live Wilco isn't enough, the DVD offers seven bonus tracks including "Airline to Heaven" and "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart". 

Video: "Impossible Germany" by Wilco

Artist MySpace  Artist Homepage  E-mail SoundProof

Bookmark and Share Email