Schmilco Love You, Baby: Scenes from a listening party for Wilco’s new album at Main Street Music
Main Street Music in Manayunk has been a haven for local music lovers for years now, so its no surprise that it was chosen as one of the few record stores to hold a listening party for Wilco‘s new album, the humorously titled Schmilco. All around the nation at 6 o’clock p.m. last night, lucky fans got a chance to hear the new record ahead of its release this Friday, while also getting a chance to win Schmilco prizes and chat with each other about the record itself.
Wilco is a band that brings people together. I just saw them for the first time at The Mann Center a couple months ago, and the guy sitting behind me told me that it was one of the best he had ever seen. Their legacy and reputation is built on a mix of longevity and constant studio experimentation along with fun-as-hell fan-pleasing live shows, and Schmilco is only the latest in their extensive line of work.
During the listening party, fans were discussing their own favorite Wilco shows and albums, while trying to decipher Jeff Tweedy’s latest introspective and cryptic songwriting. Main Street Music is the perfect venue for this kind of occasion: There is room to browse, room to talk, an overall positive environment for music lovers to come together. There were no strangers in the house as long as Wilco was playing on the speakers.
Schmilco meets on the middle ground between Star Wars, the band’s surprise album released last year, and Sukierae, Tweedy’s close-to-home solo release that was recorded with his son, Spencer. The songs on Schmilco channel the perplexed and lonely intensity that carried Star Wars while retaining the laid-back yet thoughtful acoustic tendencies of of Sukierae. Perviously released tracks “Locator” and “If I Ever Was A Child” offer off-guard rhythms and harmonies, which has become a Wilco staple at this point, while still containing an obtuse pop sensibility.
The record opens with Tweedy channeling Simon & Garfunkel on “North American Kids,” which features just his voice and guitar with some slide flourishes dipped in summer-ending reverb and regret. “Hate everything I don’t understand,” he sings, but he seems to understand a lot. As Tweedy said in an interview with Consequence of Sound recently, the title Schmilco not just references Harry Nilsson, but also refers to Tweedy’s care-free attitude towards his current form of songwriting. He’s just making music for himself and for his fans; he just wants to “keep moving.”
And move they do. “Cry All Day” begins to pick up Schmilco‘s pace by introducing the members of the band slowly. The band evolves as they move forward in traditional Wilco fashion, just like the live show. While the band has evolved and changed members over many years, one thing has stayed constant: the fans. Whether it be a huge venue such as The Mann Center or a small one such as Main Street Music, the fans are there listening. Listening and hanging on Tweedy’s every word as if it is the gospel.
The band even sent out a video press release to Main Street about the album an hour before the listening party, telling them not to share it on social media. Wilco has a tendency to do things against the grain, but its better that way.
Schmilco‘s dark undertones, highlighted especially on tracks such as “Common Sense” and “Shrug And Destroy” compliment the album art done by surrealist comic artist Joan Cornella. It’s dark, but positively dark: it doesn’t hit the joyous highs of Being There and doesn’t lay into the drug-addled depths of A Ghost Is Born. Tweedy is channeling existential angst here, but the sun is going to burn out anyways so it’s all fine.
As the record winded to a close, the patrons of Main Street music began the “Schmilco raffle,” which included items such as a shock-joke stick of gum, a turntable slipmat, and a limited edition test pressing of the album. After the winners were chosen, people still stuck around to enjoy each other’s company and bask in Schmilco‘s glory.
Yankee Hotel Foxtrot may have been their “creative peak”, but there is no other band that sounds like Wilco does now. They’ve defined themselves singularly, and if Schmilco is their last great album, that’s completely fine. It was written for an environment such as Main Street Music, for people who want to come together to appreciate something special together even if the sun is going to burn out eventually. Schmilco is a record store record, it celebrates our home away from home.