Review and photos by Tony Bonyata"I wish I could fuck you like he thinks he does, before he falls asleep. But I've never been that tired." These were the first words uttered from Jeff Tweedy's mouth for the first of his three sold-out hometown shows in Chicago, and it was this type of humorous candor, along with his own raw and often humbled performance that captivated the packed house at The Vic last night.
Without the aid of any other musicians, Wilco's leader ran through a mesmerizing two-hour set that encompassed some of his strongest material from not only Wilco, but also from his groundbreaking alt-country band Uncle Tupelo, Billy Bragg on their reworkings of Woody Guthrie material, and a handful of new tunes, including the opening number "Millionaire," from his upcoming Loose Fur side project with Jim O' Rourke and current Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche.
With a matted condor's nest for hair, untucked shirt and holely jeans, Tweedy stood in the dimly lit shadows of center stage armed solely with an acoustic guitar as he ran through the gentle musing's of "Bob Dylan's 49th Beard," "When The Roses Bloom Again," an outtake from Mermaid Avenue and later featured on Oxford American magazine's supplementary CD Southern Sampler 2000, and "I Am Trying To Break Your Heart," from Wilco's recent triumphant album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot . With baited breath, the audience was so enraptured throughout these frail numbers that had a guitar pick fell to the floor it would've resounded throughout the club. While this 1,400 capacity venue was the largest room in Chicago that he's performed his solo set in thus far, with such a relaxed and good-natured demeanor - with the talk of lighting an audience member's 30-foot bong and admitting that he 'looked like a tramp' - he gave his fans the impression that they were actually in the more intimate confines of either The Abbey Pub or Lounge Ax in Chicago, both venues which he's previously played before.
Without the rich musical lushness of Wilco to pick up some of the slack, Tweedy's less than accomplished guitar work and occasional sour vocal notes, not to mention a few botched lyrics, were laid naked for all to witness. But with an honest, soul-baring delivery and a freight train full of beautiful, earthy compositions, he also proved, just as Dylan has before him, that the smoothest voice and most technically proficient guitar playing is not what necessarily makes a great singer / songwriter. And with so many strong numbers performed as if it were a basement party with a group of close friends, Tweedy proved to be nothing less than a great singer / songwriter - quite possibly one of the best we have today.
This was most apparent as he melded emotions and color which ebbed and flowed through the harrowing, near epic reworking of "Sunken Treasure" and "I'm The Man Who Loves You," which, with Tweedy's scrambled guitar passages, helped pick up the evening's pace. Offering further rays of sunny hope were the numbers "Candy Floss" (the uptempo chestnut from Summerteeth), and a sweet, bright take of "Heavy Metal Drummer," where he cheekily improvised to the delight of the crowd, "I miss the innocence I've known playing Kiss covers... and playing Slipknot covers... and playing Creed covers," as well as the playful new track "I'm A Wheel," which saw him, literally, coughing out the chorus.
Tweedy only strayed from his six and twelve strings long enough to add some colorful harmonica on a couple of numbers, as on his road-weary version of "Via Chicago," where he crooned, "I'm coming home. I'm coming home - via Chicago." And with such a loving audience to embrace his art - warts and all - he couldn't have received a better homecoming.
2) Bob Dylan's 49th Beard
3) When The Roses Bloom Again
4) I Am Trying To Break Your Heart
5) Sunken Treasure
6) I'm The Man Who Loves You
7) Candy Floss
9) Old Maid
10) Heavy Metal Drummer
11) I'm A Wheel
12) Black Eye
14) Be Not So Fearful
15) California Stars
16) Airline To Heaven
17) Less Than You Think
18) Via Chicago
19) Not For The Season
20) Dear Employer 21) How To Fight Loneliness
22) Pecan Pie
23) Remember The Mountain Bed
24) Passenger Side
25) True Love Will Find You In The End
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