Years before Chicago’s Wilco delivered what is arguably one of the best records of their career with their 2002 release Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, they released Being There, the 1996 album that sparked my love of the group.
Although more constrained in terms of sound compared to the group’s later work, Being There is an important chapter in the band’s history, as evidenced on this five disc set that is in stores now. Originally released as a double-disc effort, the album marks the start of the group plotting its move away from their alt.country roots, which had been especially prominent on their 1995 debut A.M.
That isn’t to say they completely abandoned the genre with their second record: “Forget The Flowers,” “What’s The World Got In Store,” “Kingpin,” “Say You Miss Me,” and “Far, Far Away” certainly held their own in that respect. But some of the record’s best moments were found when the band coloured outside of those lines, like on climatic album opener “Misunderstood,” the back-to-back unadulterated joy of “Monday” and “Outtasite (Outta Mind),” the psychedelic tinged “Hotel Arizona,” and the despondent undertones of “Sunken Treasure.”
Helping make a great album even better are three extra discs of material, two of which are live shows. The first was recorded at Los Angeles’ famed Troubadour in November 1996, capturing the group at the outset of the promotional cycle behind Being There, while the other is an acoustic KCRW broadcast recorded the day after the Troubadour show.
The other disc is comprised of alternate versions of a select group of Being There tracks, as well as a generous collection of demos and rarities, including a version of “Capitol City,” which would not appear on a Wilco record until 2011’s The Whole Love.