Wilco, the second most important current rock band (admit it, Logan, I win!), will be the musical guest on Late Night with Conan O’Brien tonight. I don’t know for sure, but it seems to me that the Conan’s viewership is similar demographically to Wilco’s fan base. My guess is that there are a lot of Conan viewers to whom Wilco might appeal and who might have heard of them but aren’t familiar with them. So, while this isn’t as high-profile a gig as an appearance on The O.C. or The Garden State soundtrack or something like that (can you imagine Wilco on The O.C.? That would be awesome!), it’s a good opportunity for a band to make an impression and pique some interest. So what should they play?
There are two sides to Wilco: 1) harmless band firmly rooted in the rock/pop tradition, and 2) envelope-pushing weird experimenters. The question a band like this has to ask themselves is which side should they present to a new audience? Do they play something traditional like “Theologians” or “The Late Greats” and come off as Wilco #1 or do they play something more novel like “Spiders (Kidsmoke)” (which would have to be shortened, which probably wouldn’t work) or their crazy noisy version of “Kicking Television” and come off as Wilco #2? Or do they do something in between and come off as Wilco #1.5?
I’m hoping for Wilco #1.5. They should play something that audience members will recognize as a pop song but that also shows that they have more to offer than your run-of-the-mill rock band. In other words, they should come off as novel but not too weird. So, assuming they’re sticking with A Ghost is Born material, I suggest that they play either “Muzzle of Bees” with its delicate, easy melody, abrupt volume changes, and big, screaming guitar crescendo at the end or “Handshake Drugs” (would the drugs thing fly on network TV?) with its nice bass hook and improvized dual guitar noodling.
To those unfamiliar with Wilco but interested in indie/alternative rock, what would be most likely to pique your interest? A good, safe pop song, a pop song with some novel elements, or something off the wall? A more general question: should a band playing one song for a new audience play it safe and go for broad appeal or should they do whatever it takes to stick out? I can see pros and cons to both approaches.
The show was taped a few days ago, so I’m sure with a little internet sleuthing I could find out what they played, but I don’t want to know, so don’t tell me if you know. Yes, I’m a geeky fanboy.