Wilco released their latest album, Ode to Joy, in October 2019. Sleater-Kinney released their new record, Path of Wellness, in June. Due to the pandemic, neither record has had the kind of live support you’d normally expect such high-profile indie-rock releases to get. That gives this doubleheader tour all the more potential to be amazing, if everything goes according to plan. Wilco made a statement on their website that is very cautious and forgiving of people who don’t feel up to coming to live shows right now, but as of this writing, the show is nearly sold out, so obviously plenty of people do, and hopefully they are considering the ethics of how to behave at such an event. Wilco’s quiet and intimate Ode to Joy sounds prescient now, both in the semi-remote method of its recording—front man Jeff Tweedy and drummer Glenn Kotche built the framework of the songs and brought the rest of the band in later—and in some of its lyrics: “Now all I see from where I’m from / Empty auditorium / We were lucky, that’s for sure,” Tweedy sings on “We Were Lucky.” Mixed with cuts from Wilco’s back catalog, these inviting songs should make for a satisfying homecoming (and those with trepidation about attending any show might find the band’s darker moments fit their mood).
Last fall, Tweedy’s son and frequent collaborator Spencer Tweedy published a book, Mirror Sound: A Look Into the People and Processes Behind Self-Recorded Music, which includes a lot of firsthand observations and anecdotes about tricks of the trade, many of which musicians employed by necessity during the pandemic. It also has a foreword by Sleater-Kinney guitarist and vocalist Carrie Brownstein. Path of Wellness is Sleater-Kinney’s first album without longtime drummer Janet Weiss in 24 years and the first self-released record of their career. Brownstein and Sleater-Kinney’s other founder and front woman, Corin Tucker, have settled into a comfy groove that’s pretty easy on the ears for fans of 90s rock. Their harmonies are lovely, and their lyrics are weird and wise. The album caused some controversy upon its release, I suspect because it called back to the 80s instead of sticking to the classic indie-rock style fans have come to expect of Sleater-Kinney. The powerful postpunk groove of the title track recalls early-80s Bush Tetras, and “High in the Grass” (my favorite of the 80s-flavored tunes) features English folk-rock-style vocals over raw guitars and shout-out choruses. For a lot of fans, Wilco and Sleater-Kinney feel like old trusted friends. In these precarious pandemic times, when everyone has to choose what level of calculated risk to take, spending an evening outdoors with them could feel just right.
Wilco, Sleater-Kinney, NNAMDÏ, Sat 8/28, 6 PM, Millennium Park, Pritzker Pavilion, 201 E. Randolph, $45-90, all-ages