DVD Preview: Ashes of American Flags

Filmed “on the fly” in Tulsa, New Orleans, Mobile, Nashville and Washington, DC during Wilco’s 2008 winter tour, the DVD was shot in HD and features 13 tracks pulled from every studio album with the exception of AM, the band’s first, and least digestible, release.

Throughout the course of the 88-minute flick, we get some insight into the members of the band as people. The interviews, sprinkled throughout, have a certain authenticity that makes for a nice touch. Multi-instrumentalist Pat Sansone talks about his photography hobby. Bassist John Stirratt speaks about growing up outside of New Orleans and his family’s history in the music scene there.

There also are plenty of soundbites of the band members talking about one another with the most poignant being Tweedy discussing Stirratt, the one other constant in all incarnations of Wilco.

Shot and edited with more artistry than your average concert film, Directors Christoph Green and Brendan Canty, who also happens to be the drummer for Fugazi, use muted colors, interesting camera angles and plenty of “Americana” footage to set Wilco up as road dogs who live to be on stage delivering their heartfelt tunes night after night.

The film captures many entertaining moments off stage, including Tweedy having his throat examined by a doctor, Cline and Jorgenson mocking Kotche for setting up a kit and practicing on the tour bus and Tweedy accepting a mock Grammy from a fan at the 9:30 Club.

In the footage from the legendary Tipitinas in New Orleans, which includes a Total Pros horn section-infused The Late Greats and fan favorite Kingpin, the band seems to be most at ease, just enjoying the vibe and playing off each other on stage.

On stage, each band member is unique in his mannerisms, a fact that is more apparent in this film than I recall noticing at a live show. Glenn Kotche is a sweat-soaked animal, attacking the drums and flailing wildly. Guitarist Nels Cline quivers and shakes while pumping his enormous right hand across the guitar. Stirratt, bobs up and down with a lightness in his step. Mikael Jorgensen, who looks a bit like a more stylish young Woody Allen and Sansone are mostly calm while Tweedy shifts from a peacefully gazing into the crowd to screaming at the top of his lungs.

At every stop, Cline is a site to behold. Listening to Handshake Drugs on any live Wilco recording you can hear him shred. Watching him work on an especially fuzzy Handshake Drugs from Tulsa, it’s easy to see how he gave himself whiplash playing one night, a story he recalls for the cameras.

There is some killer scenery footage shot from the tour bus that helps bridge the gaps between the venues and concert footage. Band commentary, including some philosophical musings, also helps to smooth the transition from city to city. I particularly enjoyed the segment between Mobile and Nashville footage with Sansone and Stirratt talking about the “Wal-Martization” of the country.

The DVD will be released at independent record stores and through wilcoworld.net or nonesuch.com on April 18 as part of national Record Store Day followed by a full release on April 28.

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9 Responses

  1. Nice article Luke. We can’t wait to see this…wish you had been at the Mobile show w/us. We’re pretty sure the bridge cover shot is from Mobile’s what we affectionately call the “Dolly Parton” bridge, but haven’t gotten any verification on that. Excited to see you soon!

  2. No proof positive, but that must be the I-65 bridge over the Tensaw or Mobile rivers. This was apparent to me the moment I saw the image on Wilocworld.net in the winter.

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