Review: Ashes of American Flags (DVD)

When considering truly great rock documentaries, I've always considered the top achievements to be by Scorcese, with The Last Waltz and No Direction Home. And of course, there's Don't Look Back, Gimme Shelter and a few others, but I've often found most concert DVDs to be poorly produced, rushed and pretty light in depth.

Wilco's first concert DVD Ashes of American Flags falls in line with the aforementioned classics. The camerawork is stunning, the performances are as energized as I've ever seen the band, and the subplot of a band traveling throughout a part of America that's literally on its knees works into the story perfectly. When bassist John Stirratt speaks of his hometown in Louisiana and the Wal Mart-ization of a town he loves, it's hard not to feel a lost Americana spread throughout. When Pat Sansone steps off the bus to take photos and appears choked up as he talks about the loss of the American town as he tries to capture moments with his last few rolls of Polaroid film, there's almost a mystical beauty to the moment. And of course, we get inside the thoughts and lives of Jeff Tweedy, Glenn Kotche, Nels Cline and Mikael Jorgensen. Ok, Jorgensen kinda gets shafted.

And then there are the performances. Filmed at five separate venues, the songs flow to perfection. The blue lights during an explosive "Via Chicago" feel as though the band's collectively pounding through a lightning storm. When Nels gets his moment on "Impossible Germany," it's as if the entire band knows it's creating something extraordinary, without showing an ounce of arrogance or bombast. And then there's the the almost plaintive "Wishful Thinking," performed during soundcheck and capturing the subtlety of perhaps the most underappreciated song in the Wilco canon.

Ashes of American Flags is one of the best concert documentaries in recent memory. From the filming and the performances to the lost beauty of the deep south and the conversations with a band consisting of pretty normal folks, this is a treasure.


Anonymous said...

Couldn't agree more Chris, it's beautifully filmed.