Jeff Tweedy Live @ Union Chapel, London 30/06/10
Flanked by six acoustic guitars which stood in front of the Union Chapel’s imposing gothic pulpit, Jeff Tweedy performed a joyous solo set on Wednesday night, peppered with good humoured banter and gems that Wilco fans rarely hear at the band’s gigs. Watching Tweedy in such cheerful mood, joshing with his congregation, it was hard to imagine him as the same man who used to bait “snotty” London audiences.*
The evening’s first highlight came early when Jeff invited English cult singer-songwriter Bill Fay to the stage. The pair played Be Not So Fearful, a song from Fay’s 1970 debut LP that occasionally features on Wilco set lists. I’d been lucky enough to see them perform together at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire a few years ago. That was Fay’s first public appearance for decades and Jeff again took evident delight in introducing his dishevelled hero to a new audience.
One of the great things about a Jeff Tweedy solo show is hearing songs like Spiders and Muzzle of Bees stripped down to the bare state in which they were conceived. When Jeff played Impossible Germany he had no choice but let it peter out where Nels Cline’s epic guitar solo usually features!
The presence of Jeff’s family aided the convivial atmosphere. His wife and two boys were outside taking requests before the show. “Some asshole called David has asked for ‘any Dylan song'” jokingly moaned Jeff at point before playing a lovely version of Simple Twist of Fate. A girl who requested New Madrid, from Uncle Tupelo’s swansong album Anodyne, was greeted “I’ve had about 10 albums since then. What? You don’t like the new stuff?”
But it was a genuine pleasure to hear songs from throughout Tweedy’s career and side projects, be it Uncle Tupelo, the Mermaid Avenue albums or Loose Fur. Given the chance I’d have requested the Golden Smog track Pecan Pie and I bet he’d have played it.
Two more highlights. When you hear Tweedy introduce a number as “one of my favourite country songs” you might expect something from Hank Williams or the Louvin Brothers. Instead we were treated to The Handsome Family’s bleak Christmas tune So Much Wine. And to end the show on a perfect note Jeff used the 19th-century church’s acoustics to full effect with a totally unplugged, no PA rendition of Acuff-Rose, another corker from the Uncle Tupelo songbook.
Everyone left the Union Chapel knowing they’d seen something special. If you want a flavour of what Jeff Tweedy is like solo there are a couple of MP3s on my original Carnival Saloon post.
*One of the first times I saw Wilco play in London, at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire in 1997, an irascible Jeff Tweedy spent a significant amount of time baiting the audience for being “snotty” and threatening to “rub my Yankee ass all over you”. Hardly edifying entertaintment. I think mainly he was pissed off that the crowd weren’t really ‘getting in to it’ and I have my own theories as to why that might be.