Wilco's easing away the summer with song

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Entertainment,Music,Nancy Dunham

Somehow it seems fitting that Wilco is playing the D.C. area just days after numerous events in this area lured thousands to join in celebrations of the 100th anniversary of the birth of folk legend Woody Guthrie.

After all, it was Wilco that teamed with Billy Bragg to record the 1998 release "Mermaid Avenue," a collection of songs with unheard lyrics by Guthrie. So the Wilco show is a nice cap on the Guthrie celebration that brought his folk music to younger fans including Guthrie's granddaughter Sarah Lee (daughter of Arlo).

"I grew up loving rock 'n' roll, and then Wilco and Billy [Bragg's collaboration] brought more of the traditional in," said Sarah Guthrie, who is currently recording an album with her husband, Johnny Irion, that will be produced by Wilco's Jeff Tweedy. "It gave me a whole new appreciation of Woody's music."

Although the recent release of a deluxe edition of "Mermaid Avenue" has fans buzzing, the Guthrie connection is only one part of the band's sound. As fans know, the beauty of this alt-rock or alt-country band -- call it what you will -- is that its members are masters of reinventing themselves. Consider the 2011 album "The Whole Love," which includes a cover of a Nick Lowe song "I Love My Label."

Onstage
Wilco
When: 8 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday
Where: Wolf Trap's Filene Center, 1645 Wolf Trap Road, Vienna
Info: $45 in-house, $35 lawn; 877-WOLFTRAP (965-3872); wolftrap.org

Then there's the band's affection for many other artists of other genres including jazz, rock, country, soul and more that led Rolling Stone to dub the band "America's foremost rock impressionists." Fans go a bit beyond that, referring to Wilco as the American version of Radiohead.

Although both labels are well-deserved, it hasn't been an easy ride for the band. Frontman Jeff Tweedy has been upfront about the depression and panic attacks he suffered, and the resulting dependence on pain medications, but told Rolling Stone a few years ago that he'd vanquished his demons with professional help.

It sure seems like he's still healthy and plenty content when you consider a review of a recent Chicago show written by Kevin McKeough for the Chicago Tribune. Tweedy's voice and guitar playing were incredibly striking, wrote McKeough, adding that Wilco displayed an "easy-going assurance" throughout the luminous set. That certainly seems to bode well for the continued health and productivity of the band.

"I can't foresee a time when Wilco's going to be doing something I don't want to do," Tweedy told Rolling Stone in a 2009 interview. "And that's because it's gotten more gratifying over the years."

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Nancy Dunham

Examiner Correspondent
The Washington Examiner