WXRT's 4th of July concert in Grant Park
July 5, 2001
Amid all of the fireworks and the barbecues, it's easy to forget that Independence Day
is intended to commemorate a uniquely American spirit--one that builds on tradition while
simultaneously embracing radical change.
The high points of WXRT-FM's annual Fourth of July concert at Grant Park on Wednesday
were two great American rock bands, groups that paid tribute to this country's rich
musical legacies while being almost revolutionary in the freshness and creativity of their
Kicking things off at the Petrillo Bandshell, the North Mississippi Allstars drew
entirely from the reworked hill country blues standards on their debut album, avoiding the
promising new original material from their forthcoming disc, ''Phantom 51.'' But this was
the only disappointment during a galvanizing hourlong set.
Led by guitarist-vocalist Luther Dickinson, the hard-rocking trio is as irreverent in
its approach toward the blues as the Yardbirds were in the mid-'60s. In stark contrast to
the stilted sounds of other young white prodigies like Jonny Lang, Dickinson feels free to
twist and contort the music in countless interesting directions, at one moment evoking the
free-flowing jams of the ''Baby Dead'' bands, while at the next recalling the metallic
crunch of Cream or 10 Years After.
The group barely paused to take a breath during its soulful assault, running one song
into another and ebbing and flowing like the muddy waters of the mighty Mississippi.
Luther's brother, powerhouse drummer Cody, kept the rhythms pumping, while lumbering
bassist Chris Chew underscored his position as the group's secret weapon, adding
gospel-tinged harmonies to the Dickinsons' unholy din.
Even more potent was the headlining performance by Chicago's Wilco.
Jeff Tweedy and his newly reconfigured band started with a powerful statement,
performing two of the most inventive songs on their next album and challenging the
hometown fans to follow them on a continuing journey away from their alternative-country
roots toward a much more fractured, complex and personal sound.
The band premiered five songs from ''Yankee Hotel Foxtrot,'' which is due to be
released in September. The surprise wasn't how much tunes like the minimalist epic ''I Am
Trying to Break Your Heart,'' the horn-driven ''I'm the Man Who Loves You'' and the
haunting and holiday-appropriate ''Ashes of American Flags'' stood apart from the older
material, but how they complemented and informed earlier standouts such as the lilting
''California Stars,'' ''She's A Jar'' and the rave-up guitarfest, ''Feed of Man.''
Playing his first show with the group, drummer Glenn Kotche proved to be an invaluable
addition, joining multi-instrumentalists Jay Bennett and Leroy Bach to subtly decorate the
melodies with bells, shakers and percussion while also kicking it in fine country hoedown
spirit with bassist John Stirratt.
As is often the case, Tweedy didn't have much to say to the crowd beyond the poetic
emotions expressed in his lyrics. ''Merry Christmas,'' he cracked at the end of the
set--proving that the revolutionary spirit always celebrates in its own distinctive way.
As the middle act on the bill, Minneapolis frat boys Semisonic pandered to yuppie pop
sensibilities in their typically unctuous way, shucking and jiving through prefab hits
such as ''Chemistry'' and ''Closing Time.''
Sandwiched in between two extraordinary bands, the effect was like serving one of those
awful Jell-O molds with bits of carrots in it between some lobster and an expertly grilled