Jeff Tweedy | 03.27 | Northampton

Words by: Andrew Bruss | Images by: Julian Furtak

Jeff Tweedy :: 03.27.09 :: Calvin Theater :: Northampton, MA

Jeff Tweedy :: 03.27 :: Northampton, MA
Jeff Tweedy's solo acoustic performance at the Calvin Theater made it easy to see why folks have been calling him one of the most prominent songwriters of his generation since before Wilco had made its way into the public consciousness. Without the sonic complexities of Nels Cline's avant-garde guitar wizardry or the percussive onslaught of Glenn Kotche, Tweedy's tunes stood bare in an intimate environment that allowed a crowd of devout Wilco fans to appreciate his songwriting solely for their lyrical structure, imagery and chord progressions.

Tweedy kicked things off with a stripped down verse/chorus/verse/chorus take on "Spiders (Kidsmoke)," the ten-minute space odyssey off Wilco's 2004 release, A Ghost Is Born. The tune was rearranged in a way that gave "Kidsmoke" a seemingly different melody, but towards the end of the tune, as Tweedy sang, "There's no blood on my hands," he drove the climax home in a way that was much closer to the studio cut.

The scruffy-looking Wilco frontman followed up with a version of "I'm Always In Love," that featured Tweedy fleshing things out with a harmonica. This tune, more than any other, demonstrated how the songwriter's Midwestern sensibilities were influenced by the Minnesota-bred Bob Dylan. Dylan has said in past interviews that he thinks there's a very specific formula that all of his songs follow, and whether it was the chord changes, the over-the-neck blues harp or the first-person perspective, Tweedy was definitely channeling a young Bobby Zimmerman on stage.

As he moseyed his way through tunes like "Jesus, etc." and the soon-to-be-released, "Everlasting Everything," one thing that really stood out was Tweedy's genuine sense of humor and charming stage presence. Between tunes, Tweedy spent the night sharing his father's random anecdotes with the crowd, making sure to let us know that, "My dad's not dead though." Hecklers drunkenly shouted out whatever song they were hoping to hear, encouraged by the fact that Tweedy let fans vote online to help craft the setlist. Even when it came to a few loud-mouthed boozehounds, Tweedy managed to shut them up in a way that treated the ticket holders with dignity, and without the embarrassment that can come from being chewed out by your idol.

The witty banter and charm remained consistent throughout the duration of the set as Tweedy dished out stripped down takes on "Muzzle of Bees," "Forget The Flowers" and a set closing "California Stars." Solo acoustic sets from rock 'n' roll frontmen have always been a popular commodity that never ceases to please any act's following, and although Tweedy's set broke no new ground it was unique in its own right. Unlike Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder, Tweedy refrained from taking things too serious, and where Jim James of My Morning Jacket has been known to feed the audience nonsensical stage banter, Tweedy kept things professional yet casual, talking to the crowd like a room of old friends.

Jeff Tweedy :: 03.27 :: Northampton, MA
His first encore was the highlight of the performance. "A Shot In The Arm" from 1999's Summerteeth makes almost any Wilco fan's list of favorites, and he followed the tune with "Via Chicago," a uniquely romantic murder ballad that features a weeping guitar lead, which Tweedy substituted with some licks on his blues harp. "Via Chicago," really showcased Tweedy at his most emotionally exposed, and this emotional energy bled into the crowd. He wrapped the first encore with a cover of Radiohead's "Fake Plastic Trees" that gave the audience another chance to sing-along to a tune everyone knew.

The second encore added to an already amazing night. Following a thematic "Wilco the Song," in which Tweedy professes, "Wilco still loves you baby," he started playing the opening chords of "Heavy Metal Drummer." Rather than singing the first verse, he strummed along in awe as his crowd sang, word-for-word, the entire verse, before Tweedy got back behind the wheel for the chorus. "Casino Queen" was a tune folks had been hollering for all evening, and Tweedy didn't disappoint. He seemingly wrapped the night with "I'm The Man Who Loves You," leaving everyone in attendance feeling close to Tweedy.

What threw some folks off was a third encore of "Dreamer In My Dreams" and "Acuff-Rose" that featured Tweedy playing at the foot of the stage without amplification. A crowd that had been pretty loud all night managed to shush themselves for the last few minutes of the two-hour performance, making sure that every note the man they loved played was heard.

Jeff Tweedy's performance at the Calvin Theatre was far from innovative and would hold little appeal to anyone outside of the Wilco fan base. But for Wilco diehards, Tweedy's set was more than an opportunity to hear older tunes and b-sides; it was a chance to see their favorite frontman perform with the intimacy that even their favorite six-member, Chicago-based rock band could never match.

Jeff Tweedy :: 03.27.09 :: Calvin Theater :: Northampton, MA
Spiders (Kidsmoke), I'm Always In Love (w/harmonica), Remember the Mountain Bed, Bob Dylan's 49th Beard, Jesus, etc., One By One, Everlasting Everything, Solitaire, Someday, Some Morning, Sometime, The Ruling Class, Wait Up, Muzzle of Bees, In A Future Age, Forget the Flowers, California Stars
E1: A Shot in the Arm, Via Chicago (w/harmonica), Fake Plastic Trees [Radiohead]
E2: Wilco the Song, Heavy Metal Drummer (crowd sing-along), Casino Queen, I'm The Man Who Loves You
E3 (played at edge of stage w/o PA system): Dreamer In My Dreams, Acuff-Rose

Wilco perform April 14 in Milwaukee, WI. Complete tour dates available here.

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