Jeff Tweedy could have been a stand-up comic in a previous life. Four songs into his solo acoustic set Feb. 13 in Los Angeles, he finally addressed the quietly well-behaved, sold-out crowd that had ga
Jeff Tweedy could have been a stand-up comic in a previous life. Four songs into his solo acoustic set Feb. 13 in Los Angeles, he finally addressed the quietly well-behaved, sold-out crowd that had gathered to hear him. "You guys must not be in the industry," he quipped with perfect deadpan drollery.
Indeed Tweedy, and his band Wilco, have never seemed to mesh well with such industry types, or for that matter, with their surrounding major-label music environment. But somehow, despite having had more than their share of well-documented, career-defining record label fiascos, the group has retained its composure, thanks in part to Tweedy's ability to laugh at the sheer ludicrous nature of life as an artist in the modern day music business.
More importantly, Tweedy continues to excel at channeling his life experiences into deeply compelling songs that are alternately thoughtful, gut wrenching and hilarious. In fact, Tweedy actually made himself laugh on stage, mid-lyric, during a new song, while softly crooning, "Is that the thanks I get for loving you?"
Drawing liberally from his extensive body of work, Tweedy performed songs from no less than 11 different album's worth of material. There were tender deliveries of "Sunken Treasure" and "(Was I) In Your Dreams" from Wilco's "Being There" alongside gorgeous renditions of "Remember the Mountain Bed" and "Someday Some Morning Sometime" from the Billy Bragg collaboration "Mermaid Avenue II." Armed with just guitar and harmonica for much of the evening, Tweedy communicated the songs with deep power and resounding emotional depth. His rhythmic fingerpicking and cracked vocal hushes made "Muzzle of Bees" one of the set's highlights.
Careful not to let the evening become too somber, Tweedy brought the humor back with the "The Ruling Class," a Jesus-themed gem from the forthcoming Loose Fur album "Born Again in the U.S.A.," which boasts the chorus refrain, "He's back, jack, shooting smack, find him if you wanna get found."
Elsewhere, a soulful "I Am Trying To Break Your Heart" benefited nicely from bluesy guitar chord inversions, while the strong melodies in "Airline to Heaven," "A Shot in the Arm" and "California Stars" pleased casual and die-hard fans alike.
Tweedy's captivating vocal and instrumental talents were apparent all night, but it was the onstage visit from his pre-teen son Spencer that stole the show. "I'm The Man Who Loves You" was dedicated to "Mommy," as Spencer backed up his dad on drums with impressive musicianship, despite having "opted out of sound check today because he wanted to go swimming."
Having already opened the show with his own solo set of material from his forthcoming album, "Mobile," Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche joined Tweedy for the set's finale. Loose Fur's "Not for the Season" tumbled forth with vibrant intensity, while "War on War" and "Heavy Metal Drummer" showcased Kotche's rhythmic finesse and expansive inventiveness with the drum kit. It was enough to make Tweedy physically kiss his drummer's biceps onstage afterward.
On this solo tour in particular, Tweedy has succeeded in creating an extremely rewarding concert-going experience. In the hands of a lesser artist with similar subject matter, a stripped down evening like this could have landed too far on the boring side of depressing. But it's the way Tweedy balances the fragile ache of his melodic vocal expressiveness with his cunning lyrical cynicism that makes him one of the most worthwhile songwriters of the past three decades, whether he is alone with a guitar or together with his Wilco bandmates.
Yet the gripping music he performed was only one part of his set's success. Perhaps it was the self-depreciating tour anecdotes he told in between songs about his band being personally insulted by record store employees. Or maybe it was the way he was careful to balance out Spencer's moment of fame on stage by telling the crowd about his younger son Sam's burgeoning joke-writing abilities. The subtleties of a well-rounded performance were not lost on Tweedy, as he found a way to let his authenticity move the audience without even singing a note.
Here is Jeff Tweedy's set list:
"Someday Some Morning Sometime"
"Remember the Mountain Bed"
"(Was I) In your Dreams"
"Please Tell My Brother"
"Bob Dylan's 49th Beard"
"Muzzle of Bees"
"The Ruling Class"
"I am Trying To Break Your Heart"
"I'm the Man Who Loves You" (w/ Spencer Tweedy)
"Airline to Heaven"
"A Shot in the Arm"
"When the Roses Bloom Again"
(w/ Glenn Kotche)
"Not for the Season"
"Far, Far Away"
"War on War"
"Heavy Metal Drummer"
(Tweedy w/out PA)