Classic Clips: Wilco “Impossible Germany” – KCRW session at The Theatre at Ace Hotel, 2016

Photo: Caitlin Moggridge

Given that the name of this feature is ‘Classic Clips’ then you can not get more classic than this. I’d normally avoid offering something so fundamental to AUK and as widely known and loved as Wilco but I guess it’s good to be reminded of why we love them on the eve of the new album that is set to reacquaint us with the noisy Wilco hinted at in this clip.

Impossible Germany’ is a cornerstone of their live set, and has been for 15 years or so. You can sense the excitement of a Wilco gathering every time those opening chords chime out and I share every ounce (second, scintilla, therm, iota – whatever units we measure excitement and anticipation in) of it.

The song itself  is obviously a metaphor for a difficult pairing (“Impossible Germany, unlikely Japan”), a relationship that is hard to maintain or is there for convenience almost. One where communication can be difficult and challenging. Its lyrical content is brief and relatively straightforward to contend with, but that’s not why we are here, is it? What we want are the musical dynamics offered.

Live, ‘Impossible Germany’ comes in three parts. The first 2:25 has Tweedy’s vocals and is effectively the sweet little metaphorical song about relationships mentioned above. As this part ends there is a subtle shift in the song, maybe suggesting the relationship that is being discussed? From here it builds, subtly almost imperceptibly at first gently melodic soloing from Nels Cline carries us with it and we don’t notice that we’re getting wrapped up in the dynamics and transported somewhere; where, good or bad, we’re not sure.

Cline’s soloing gets wilder as this second part reaches a climax of sorts. Once you know the song well you’re waiting for Cline’s solo to wind down with a beautifully melodic coda and for he and  Tweedy to repeat that tuneful chiming guitar riff at 5:15 as a signal for Cline to return to the almost avant-garde shredding that closes out the final 2 minutes of the song. This clash between melody and weird noise is what most of us seem to think makes Wilco both unique and brilliant. When they play ‘Impossible Germany’ live it encapsulates this juxtaposition perfectly, noise and melody at odds yet, working in sync’ for the service of the song.

I’d hesitate to use the word transcendent to describe live music, but this is about as close as it gets. As one of the comments for one of the many versions of this song on YouTube has it “I thought my heart was going to burst during this song.” Every time mate, every time.

Here’s the ‘Classic Clip’ of them performing the song for a KCRW session:

About Guy Lincoln 73 Articles
Americana, New Country, Alt-country, No Depression, Twangcore, Cow-punk, Neo-traditionalists, Countrypolitan... whatever.
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Jose Maria Fernandez

One of the best songs in the last twenty years!