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KICKING INTO HIGH GEAR

We should probably say thank-you, but the list is too long to make such a gesture convenient.

Rockin' at the Knox took a leap into the big leagues this year, as the front parking lot of the art gallery -- the Elmwood Avenue side -- turned into a festival grounds, and some of Buffalo's finest indie bands shared the bill with My Morning Jacket and Wilco.

This might not sound like headline material to some folks, but in the rock world, scoring Wilco -- which has managed to miss Buffalo for a decade -- a gig within the perimeter of the Albright-Knox is a coup of massive proportions. The common response on the street after the show was announced ran something like, "You're kidding, right?"

Fun Time Presents and Robby Takac and team weren't kidding, though. Takac's Music Is Art Festival included a Takac-curated show inside the Albright-Knox, with works by local artists Mark Freeland and Wendy Marvel, among others. Kudos to MIA's Jon Simon for the beautiful array of multi-idiomatic art works. Takac helped to present this incredible display, and to cap it off with a gig by the most important band in American rock.

Early sets by the Juliet Dagger and Last Conservative whetted the appetites of the faithful, who flocked to see Wilco, and no doubt, the incredible My Morning Jacket, as well.

Jacket took the stage with a brilliant version of Prince's "I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man," and tore through a set highlighted by gorgeous guitar interplay, visceral guitar crescendos, and an ethic that suggested Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Band, and Neil Young's Crazy Horse in equal measure.

The band owned the crowd within minutes, then proceeded to baffle, amuse and, frankly, rock it into a state of pleasant oblivion. Vocalist Jim James, donning a Gibson Flying V, made clear his passion for the ritual, and by the end of its set, the Jacket had doubtlessly earned a parking lot's worth of new fans.

To Wilco, then. Expectations were met. Within minutes of Jeff Tweedy and company's arrival onstage, the place was in love. There is no band in this country matching the blend of avant garde smarts, twisted leanings and genuine, folk- and country-inflected songwriting genius of Wilco. The critical reputation -- fueled, in part no doubt, by writers like me, who are easy prey for the willful manipulation of idioms that seems to be Tweedy and Co.'s wont -- can't diminish the impact of this band.

Early shots to the heart included "Shot in the Arm," a gorgeous, pulsating slice of modern rock that defies categorization; "Handshake Drugs," a bizarre, pulsating piece of transcendent paranoia accentuated by a mind-blowing interchange between guitarist Nels Cline, a lord of twisted rock playing, and newly christened guitar hero Tweedy; the record that introduced the mainstream to Wilco, "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot," was represented, in part, by the searing "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart"; "Kamera" and "War on War" kicked it all up a notch; and the newest record, "A Ghost Is Born," was celebrated by butt-kicking versions of the Beatle-esque "Hummingbirds" and the album-opening opus "At Least That's What You Said."

I hope this becomes a yearly event of this magnitude. This is the sort of artistic celebration our city deserves.

e-mail: Jmiers@buffnews.com

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