The last time that most Wilco fans met Spencer Tweedy was the 2002 rockumentary I Am Trying to Break Your Heart, which chronicles the making of the alt-country band's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Towards the end of that classic film, the then-six-year-old is found on the tour bus with his famous father, Jeff, banging away on his knees to Wilco's "Heavy Metal Drummer." It doesn't quite sound like the studio version, but it's an adorable scene nonetheless.
Fast forward to Sunday night, when Tweedy, the side project formed between the father and son, played the third show of their current U.S. tour at a sold-out First Avenue. Spencer is now 19 years old and fully capable of keeping time behind his dad, as proven by a two-hour gig where he and his old man aired songs from last year's double album Sukierae, and then plenty more.
See also: Slideshow: Tweedy Rock First Avenue[jump]
Sukirae features 20 twangy pop songs in the vein of Wilco's more recent efforts, usually resembling Sky Blue Sky moreso than Summerteeth. Tunes from the new record, the closest thing resembling a Jeff Tweedy solo project in a career that spans Uncle Tupelo, Wilco, Golden Smog, and Land Ho!, dominated the first of five movements in Sunday's show. The second song of the night, "Diamond Light, Pt. 1," alternately rocked the house and laid back in the hammock, while "Nobody Dies Anymore" sported a classic Tweedy melody and harmonic perfection between guitarist Jim Elkington and backup singer Sima Cunningham.
Tweedy might be a duo on paper, but it's very much a six-piece onstage. This Tweedy tour is a true family affair, beyond the fact that Spencer is living out a thousand rock star fantasies by traveling the country with his rock star father. As noted by Jeff onstage, Sima and brother/second guitarist Liam Cunningham are childhood friends of Spencer's, while bassist Darin Gray has known Jeff since they were kids. The sixth wheel of Elkington, he joked, "had no friends growing up."
Quips like that were commonplace from the elder Tweedy on the First Avenue stage ("This stage is much higher than I remember... Maybe I was higher back then"). Spencer apparently isn't the only member of the family who's grown since in the 13 years since I Am Trying to Break Your Heart, in which his father comes off fairly humorless. Among other things, Jeff's impromptu comedy routines on Sunday night created the hashtag #needytweedy and playfully shamed one audience member for asking "Can we Tweedy about it?" after he suggested telling the Twitterverse about the show.
"This is our hit song. I'll give you a nickel if you can tell me what it is," Jeff joked while introducing "Low Key," the final song in the concert's first set. "It's such a drag to have to keep reminding people which song is your hit." It was clear why their most-downloaded song on iTunes was saved for last, with its catchy and chorus breezy guitar solo matching the tone of the show up to that point.
"I'm going to play some songs for you by myself," the singer said as the rest of the musicians exited stage left. "That's a tough one to follow. Now what to clap for, right? You don't want to sound like you're cheering for these guys to leave, but you also want to give me a little encouragement. It's a set of complex emotions tonight."
With that, the Tweedy concert took on a heavier air, at least in the eyes of the audience. The frontman used this time to play various Wilco, Uncle Tupelo and Golden Smog songs, accompanied only by his guitar, harmonica and a very bright stage light.
"Via Chicago" was possibly the quietest I'd ever heard the mainroom, as the 1,600 in attendance hung on every word of the Summerteeth deep cut. You could hear a pin drop. Or, rather, you could hear the scattered shushes as several fans tried to harmonize with their idol. There was no hope in hushing the massive singalong to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot's "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart," though.
Jeff played other classics from his illustrious catalog during this portion of the show, giving the crowd their money's worth with cuts like Uncle Tupelo's "New Madrid," Wilco's "Passenger Side" and Golden Smog's "Please Tell My Brother." In fact, it wouldn't be long before the singer's Golden Smog bandmate Gary Louris (most famously of Minneapolis' The Jayhawks) joined him onstage for spellbinding duets on that band's "Long Time Ago" and "Radio King" in the encore. "Just like riding a bike," he said. "That's what playing with Gary Louris is like."
Tweedy's patriarch didn't just cover material by his old bands the rest of the night. Dianne Izzo's "Love Like a Wire," Mavis Staples' "Only the Lord Knows" (written by Jeff) and Neil Young's "The Losing End (When You're On)" were also played throughout the show. That last Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere cut was especially appropriate, since Tweedy looked especially Shakey-esque with a cowboy hat on his head and acoustic guitar in his hand. [page]
Sukierae is the reason that Tweedy is criss-crossing America, but the songs from the latest release were just one stop along Sunday night's journey through the family songbook. The much-deserved encore consisted of takes on Doug Sahm's "Give Back the Key to My Heart" (included on Uncle Tupelo swan song Anodyne) and the Wilco and Billy Bragg collaboration "California Stars."
More like "Minnesota Stars." "All the way back to Uncle Tupelo, this town has made us feel so good and made us feel like we could do this," the frontman said of Minneapolis midway through the concert. "This place (First Avenue) is still an oasis for every fucking rock band in the world."
Not every fucking rock band. Wilco, for instance, hasn't graced the First Avenue stage since 2001. However, it's clearly the perfect venue for the Jeff Tweedy Highlight Reel. Critic's Bias: I'm a recent convert to the Wilco catalog, and other than a brief secret set at Lollapalooza 2008, this was my first time seeing Jeff Tweedy in any incarnation. The sheer beauty of the solo takes on his back catalog only made me more excited to finally see Wilco live in a couple of months.
The Opener: Warm-up act The Minus 5, featuring R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck, Young Fresh Fellows mastermind Scott McCaughey Split Squad birthday boy Michael Giblin and Zuzu's Petals local hero Linda Pitmon, ran through a dozen of their excellent power-pop songs before Tweedy took the stage. Other than Buck, what 85-million-record-selling Rock and Roll Hall of Famer would open a club show? He certainly doesn't need the money; he simply loves to travel and play live music. That's why Buck is one of the coolest musicians on the planet.
Tweedy Fake Fur Coat Diamond Light Pt. 1 Flowering World Away New Moon Nobody Dies Anymore Hazel Summer Moon You Are Not Alone (Mavis Staples) Love Like a Wire (Diane Izzo) Wait for Love High as Hello Low Key
Jeff Tweedy Via Chicago (Wilco) I Am Trying to Break Your Heart (Wilco) New Madrid (Uncle Tupelo) Hotel Arizona (Wilco) Passenger Side (Wilco) Please Tell My Brother (Golden Smog) Born Alone (Wilco) Jesus, Etc. (Wilco) I Am the Man Who Loves You (Wilco)
Tweedy Please Don't Let Me Be Understood Only the Lord Knows (Mavis Staples) The Losing End (When You're On) (Neil Young)
Jeff Tweedy and Gary Louris Long Time Ago (Golden Smog) Radio King (Golden Smog)
Tweedy Give Back the Key to My Heart (Uncle Tupelo) California Stars (Wilco & Billy Bragg)
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