Stretching nearly two hours and twenty-three cuts, Kicking Television is both a love letter to Wilco’s dedicated fans and a definitive live statement from America’s foremost rock impressionists. Nearly two-thirds of the material — which was recorded in May during four nights at the Vic Theater in Chicago, Wilco’s hometown — comes from the band’s last two albums. But the live setting does a lot for the creaks and cracks in Wilco’s sound and the soft spots in Jeff Tweedy’s brain, as the band stretches out and gets loud with confidence.
Many of the new wrinkles are incidental — a ripping guitar solo on “The Late Greats,” an amped-up Crazy Horse-turned-arena-rock groove on “Heavy Metal Drummer,” an audience singalong on “A Shot in the Arm.” But when Tweedy’s tunes hide their heads in their hoodies, his band picks up the slack: The noise-squall intro and scorched-earth drones in “Wishful Thinking” are way cooler here than on the studio version, and on “Spiders (Kidsmoke),” Wilco augment a kraut-rock beat with keyboards and feedback howls, working up a hard-jamming racket. Even better, they enliven and lush-up some dusty oldies, including the angst-ridden anthem “Misunderstood” and two countrified cuts from the terrific Billy Bragg collabo Mermaid Avenue.