“We’re gonna play some new songs,” Jeff Tweedy told the crowd at the Jack White Theatre in Detroit’s Masonic Temple on Thursday night. “We got a bunch of new songs, so buckle up and get used to it, OK?”
He wasn’t kidding.
The bulk of Tweedy’s 25-song set opening his latest tour away from Wilco, a whopping 14 songs, received their first public airing — which he even dubbed “a colossally ignorant thing to do.” But with his droll sense of humor, a new band to play the tunes and an exuberantly supportive audience that trusts in Tweedy to steer it right, it wound up being a special night and a low-key roll-out for yet another new turn in his eclectic career.
Tweedy’s is the kind of crowd tuned in enough to know that the concert was the first live salvo in the campaign for “Sukierae,” billed to Tweedy — a collaboration between him and his 18-year-old son and drummer Spencer. “That’s my boy!” Tweedy announced with a smile while introducing the band members. “He WANTS to be here. Really. You can ask him.” And he explained Spencer’s presence on the album as a kind of necessity.
“I always thought if I made a solo album I should play everything,” Tweedy noted. “I never knew how to play drums. I took 18 years to grow a drummer — but it’s the same DNA!”
Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy Announces Tour, Debut Solo Album
Filled out to a quintet for touring purposes, Tweedy offered confident, if slightly tentative, versions of the new songs — though interestingly not “I’ll Sing It,” which is streaming at Wilcoworld.com. None of those the group played would sound out of place within Wilco’s broad-reaching catalog, from the delicate ‘n’ dirge-y “Down From Above” through the rootsy veneers of “Flowering” and “Wait For Love” and the funk flavor of “World Away.” Uptempo numbers such as “Summer Noon” and “Low Key” were exceptions, with most of the material couched in pretty melodicism that left guitarist Jim Elkington (Eleventh Dream Day, the Horse’s Ha) plenty of room for Nels Cline-style soloing, while Spencer Tweedy played with steady assurance and nuance usually associated with older musicians.
Tweedy, who acknowledged being “a little nervous,” decided to “up the ante” with the new “Slow Love,” coaching the crowd to sing the intro and outro choruses, which it picked up in short order much to the frontman’s pleasure (and relief). The encore “Diamond Light,” meanwhile, was the loudest song of the night, a cascade of electric fusion noise that stood out from but still complemented the quieter tone of the evening.
Tweedy also rewarded fans for their patience during his solo sets, which touched on favorites from Wilco (“Spiders (Kidsmoke),” “Passenger Side,” “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart,” “Jesus, Etc.,” “Misunderstood,” “I’m the Man Who Loves You”) and Uncle Tupelo (“New Madrid”) as well as covers of Mavis Staples’ Tweedy-written and produced “You Are Not Alone” and Loose Fur’s “The Ruling Class.” A solo rendition of Uncle Tupelo’s “Acuff Rose” closed the evening with Tweedy playing and singing, without amplification but amplifying the meaning of lyrics such as “Sometimes I get the feeling that every thing’s alright.”
The 20-song “Sukierae” is due out Sept. 16, and Tweedy currently has shows booked through July 27. Tweedy’s full opening night set list included:
Down From Above
Where My Love
High As Hello
Wait For Love
Jeff Tweedy solo:
Spiders (Kidsmoke) (Wilco)
Passenger Side (Wilco)
You Are Not Alone (Mavis Staples)
The Ruling Class (Loose Fur)
New Madrid (Uncle Tupelo)
Kicking Television (Wilco)
I Am Trying to Break Your Heart (Wilco)
Jesus, Etc. (Wilco)
Jeff Tweedy solo:
I’m The Man Who Loves You (Wilco)
Acuff-Rose (Uncle Tupelo)