The live double album was considered heavyweight currency back in the 1970s. In an era when using extended guitar duals and a drum solo to expand a zippy four minute studio based rock work out into a multi-layered live epic was not frowned upon, the live rock experience could rarely be contained on just the two sides of vinyl. Then came the CD era, and once proud live doubles such as Live and Dangerous, Made in Japan and Live Rust were reduced to a single disc, losing a modest measure of their grandeur in the process.
For a while it seemed the live double album was in danger of becoming a thing of the past. Sure, there were those live doubles from the 70s that just wouldn’t fit on the single CD, but when it came to new live albums, precious few were more than one disc, and those that did were rarely worth the runtime. The harsh truth was, it seemed that holding the attention of the modern rock fan was becoming ever more difficult and unless you were an act that had the live flair and ability to hold the attention of the audience no matter what, then the live performance DVD was going to be the live performance format was going to suit you better. It seemed the live double album’s days were numbered.
Enter Wilco, one of the most engaging American bands of recent years. They were riding in on a wave of positivity in the wake of a pair of albums that had seen them become critical darlings and pretty much the hottest alternative rock band on the planet not called Radiohead. Unlike Radiohead they had songs with proper choruses too. Their previous studio album, A Ghost Is Born, had seen them take a turn towards the extended jam song structure meaning that they were prime candidates to release a truly worthwhile double live CD.
Kicking Television: Live in Chicago is a great example of a 70s style live double album by a modern(ish) band. While the temptation must have been to frontload the album with crowd pleasers from the much adored album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Wilco take a more considered approach of tension and release dynamics, gradually raising the energy levels until every member of the audience and the listener at home are fully engaged.
Of course, Kicking Television leans heavily on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and A Ghost is Born, but there’s still room for highlights from Being There and Summerteeth (though sadly, nothing from their debut, AM. The title track is actually a B-side, but given the furious rendition delivered, it really couldn’t have been named after any other track. Throughout the album Jeff Tweedy’s self deprecating humour features, but never dominates, and the whole of Wilco operates like a well-oiled live performance machine. Dependable, but still very human and warm, Wilco were at a live performance peak at this stage in their career, and even the songs on which they stretch out and jam away are focused and never stray far from the core of the tune.
Kicking Television: Live in Chicago succeeds as a nod back to those great double live albums of the 70s, given a modern twist by one of the finest American rock bands of the era. Not just any band could pull of a success like this, but Wilco could.