Jeff Tweedy speaks for many a man. You’ve seen the type: jaded, experienced, most often the oldest dude at the show, too far evolved to get down with the mawkish wails of Bright Eyes and the maudlin masses but still needing something to connect their inner-turmoil to. What better a tonic for him than Jeff Tweedy’s well-phrased words and drearily aware metaphors? You get a better sense of this in Tweedy’s role as a solo artist than as Wilco’s frontman, and while performing his stripped-down routine during a two-night-stand in New York City, it was hard not to picture him as spokesman for the late-to-come-of-age set.
Tweedy rolled into town on the tail end of a solo tour (he’s slated to kick off another, this one on the West Coast, on January 31 in Vancouver), coming way downtown to the Tribeca Performing Arts Center for two free shows as part of the wonderfully ideal but helplessly bureaucratic Wall Street Rising concert series. Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche opened up for his frontman with a thirty-minute set of the wild drumming that would have been completely self-gratifying if he weren’t so damn proficient with and passionate about his instruments. Kotche used all things percussive for his performance. He even broke out twenty cricket boxes at one point for a surreal backwash to the controlled madness of his arm flailing.
Onto the stage with that new-found peppy step came Tweedy, dressed in his usual understated attire (or to borrow from Eddie Vedder, “his perfectly unkempt clothes”) and the shy smile of an artist still feeling too big for his boots. Plugging in one of the five guitars, Jeff started into an all-too faithful version of “Spiders.” That and the next song, “Muzzle of Bees,” were odd choices for solo renditions, and they turned out to be the least impressive tunes on a night when everything else was right on the money.
Tweedy’s bests of the night were the Uncle Tupelo classic “Wait Up,” the ultra-folky “Bob Dylan’s 49th Beard” and, to start off the first encore, a knee-buckling version of “Sunken Treasure” that brought the girl next to me to tears. For the rest of the encore, Tweedy had Jim O’Rourke and Kotche on stage to run through a few Loose Fur numbers, including a new one, “He’s Back Jack-Whistling Jesus,” which tells the tail of ole JC’s un-heroic return to Earth, where he has reinvented himself as a crack-smoking mooch.
As any Wilco fan can attest, Tweedy’s between-song banter can vary from curmudgeonly dormant to downright feisty. For this show at least, the latter prevailed. The theme of his ranting was the great “abyss” that he has been staring into on his tour, an effect he claims was caused by the only lights in the house being pointed directly at him. The “abyss” had said many a thing to Tweedy on his road trip, but none more annoying than the voice of a fan who asked to come on stage and play a song, adding that he even brought his own pick, a transparent attempt to preempt the ultimate fan fantasy.
Though a lackluster “Lonely One” finished off the show, Tweedy’s deft song selection, banter level and overall joie de vivre gave the fawning crowd members exactly what they came for.
1. Spiders (Kidsmoke)
2. Muzzle of Bees
3. I Am Trying to Break Your Heart
4. Wait Up
5. (Was I) In Your Dreams
6. Remember the Mountain Bed
7. Lost Love
8. Please Tell My Brother
9. Bob Dylan’s 49th Beard
10. Sugar Baby
11. My Words
12. Someday Some Morning Sometime
13. Summer Teeth
14. She’s A Jar
15. Sunken Treasure
16. Not for the Season
17. He’s Back Jack-Whistling Jesus
18. War on War
19. Heavy Metal Drummer
20. The Lonely 1