It’s been a long time since it’s happened, but I’ve seen my fair share of Wilco shows. I have a beloved cadre of friends that has a hearty representation of Uncle Tupelo devotees, and I spent a few evening hours during the mid-nineties watching the bands built from the splinters of that seminal alt country group. At least initially, Son Volt was the group that garnered the most acclaim, and I think they were the band my friends favored too. For me, the choice was always Wilco. To be thorough in this reportage, I wasn’t especially fond of Uncle Tupelo, an indifference that continues to this day. It makes sense, I suppose, that the one Uncle Tupelo song I like — and I really, really like it — is “The Long Cut,” a Jeff Tweedy-penned track off the band’s last album that sounds more like early Wilco than late Uncle Tupelo to me.
Another thing tipping my preference was that I felt Wilco was the significantly better band in concert, an important consideration when both groups were tracking through the college town I lived in and I wanted to join with my friends as they bought tickets for every stop. Besides being looser, rawer, and even a little funnier, I found that Wilco was always more likely to simultaneously enlighten and surprise me with their set list, especially in their choice of cover songs. I remember full well standing in the crowd of Madison’s Barrymore Theatre as Jeff Tweedy and company launched into their version of the Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers song “Tell It to Her Heart.” Like anyone with a working memory of the seventies and eighties, I know a lot of Petty songs, but I didn’t know that one. I stood there listening and thinking, “I’ve gotta get this song.”
Though I’m not necessarily a skilled archaeologist of bootleg recordings, I’ve never found a live version of Wilco performing the song, but I did get my iTunes on the next best thing. It’s Tweedy along with future (and now former) Wilco member Jay Bennett performing at Chicago’s Lounge Ax in late 1994, after Uncle Tupelo broke up and before the first Wilco album arrived. Their take on “Listen to Her Heart” is close enough to the one that enthralled me that night in Madison, so many years ago.
Listen or download –> Jeff Tweedy with Jay Bennett, “Listen to Her Heart”
(Disclaimer: As I typed above, I believe this to be a bootleg recording, meaning that it’s not available through any means that compensates anyone who deserves to be compensated for it. Whoever bootlegged it in the first place doesn’t count. It could be a legit recording that’s somehow available and I simply haven’t found it. I’ll admit I haven’t tried very hard. Regardless, I share it here with the belief that I am causing no one fiscal harm and with the hope that it might inspire someone to purchase some Wilco music. Or Tom Petty music, for that matter.)