Wilco Unveil New Sound Onstage And On Record

Summer Teeth, due March 9, features pop harmonies, keyboards and dark lyrics.

SAN FRANCISCO -- Jeff Tweedy wasn't kidding

when he said last year that Wilco's next album would

contain "zero country references."

Summer Teeth, scheduled to be released March 9,

finds the Chicago quintet long associated with the

alt-country movement dropping the dobros and steel guitars

that marked its first two albums. Instead, the band is using

piano, organ and other keyboards to accent an album of

dark pop songs.

The songs on Summer Teeth, Wilco's third album,

balance some weighty lyrical content with pop harmonies

and a healthy dose of humor and sarcasm. Birds twitter on

the title track, and an operatic voice soars underneath the

ending of "Candyfloss," a playful pop song that features

carousel-like keyboard sounds. A jaunty piano kicks off

"Shot in the Arm," giving way to swarming feedback and a

chorus in which Tweedy sings, "What you once were/ Isn't

what you want to be anymore."

Lyrically, Wilco have entered dense territory far beyond the

stoner romance of


Must Be High" (RealAudio excerpt) and the pop

breeziness of "Box Full of Letters," both from their debut

album, A.M. (1995).

On "Via Chicago," Tweedy sings, "Dreamed about killing

you again last night/ And it felt all right to me/ Dying on the

banks of Embarcadero skies/ I sat and watched you bleed."

The girl he sings about in "She's a Jar" is "A pretty wall

with feelings hid/ You know she begs me not to hit her."

Wilco trotted out four songs from the new album

Wednesday at the Fillmore Auditorium here (where they

also played on New Year's Eve). And they trotted out a

lineup that found keyboardist Leroy Bach taking the place

of jack-of-all-strings Max Johnston, who left Wilco to join

country traditionalists Freakwater. The rest of the band --

singer/guitarist Tweedy, multi-instrumentalist Jay Bennett,

bassist John Stirratt and drummer Ken Coomer -- remained


Tweedy apologized for the performance of one of the new

tunes, "I'm Always in Love," one of Summer

Teeth's most accessible tracks. Tweedy said the band

was playing it live for the first time. "That's as well as we

can play it right now," the scruffy-looking singer said at

song's end. "Come back in six months and it'll sound a lot


(Wilco aren't currently on tour; Tweedy begins a West

Coast excursion with the supergroup Golden Smog on Jan.

16 in Seattle.)

Tweedy's humility notwithstanding, "I'm Always in Love"

and other new songs, including the brooding "Via Chicago,"

resonated through the sold-out Fillmore as comfortably as

did such Wilco standbys as


Queen" (RealAudio excerpt) and a punked-up

"Passenger Side."

The set also included "New Madrid," a chestnut

from Tweedy's old band, the pioneering alt-country outfit

Uncle Tupelo, and four songs from Mermaid

Avenue, the band's recent collaboration with British

singer/songwriter Billy Bragg.

Perhaps Wilco just wanted to cover all the bases. "We don't

[know] what people want to hear these days," Tweedy told

the audience. "We haven't played much in the last year, so

outside of 'Passenger Side,' we don't know what you want

to hear."

Whether or not they want to hear it, Wilco fans will get

plenty of pop come March 9 with the release of

Summer Teeth. "Nothing'severgonnastandinmyway

(again)," "How to Fight Loneliness" and the title track

feature "ooh" and "aah" harmonies that evoke the heyday of

'60s pop-rockers the Beach Boys.

But, as Beach Boys fans know, pop doesn't always mean

sunny days and star-filled nights. "How to Fight Loneliness"

is a sarcastic tune in which Tweedy advises laughing at

every joke and smiling all the time. Elsewhere on the album,

Wilco use piano to anchor a lullaby called "My Darling"; the

same instrument drives the mournful "We're Just Friends."

This is the same dark pop territory Wilco began exploring

on their two-disc set Being There (1996). Then, it

was part of their sound; now, it seems it is their