Jeff Tweedy With Bob Egan – Lounge Ax (Chicago, IL)
“I’m sorry; I thought we played too long. I thought we played bad, and we sang bad, and I’m really sorry you didn’t have a good time.”
Jeff Tweedy was doing his best to loosen the grip of wall-to-wall fans after his second encore and a little over two hours onstage. It wasn’t easy, for him or for the fans. For two hours a chorus numbering two-thirds of the house had joined him for the better part of every song as the evening careened from muscle pop to kinderlieder, from the Beatles and Big Star to echoes of Muddy Waters. All of this merely shaped out the corners of the evening’s core: the stunning reduction of Being There’s adventures-in-productionland to something made live by just four hands.
The opening bars of each cut from Wilco’s latest album found members of the audience exchanging incredulous glances: “He can’t possibly do this one.” Well, yes, he can, in the process demonstrating that what makes these big songs is mostly the breadth of Tweedy’s imagination playing on whatever’s at hand. They also make you wonder if Tweedy doesn’t hear fans singing as he composes; these songs could almost belong to Acuff-Rose.
Sitting onstage in his Handsome Family T-shirt amid a thicket of guitars, Tweedy opened with “Red-Eyed And Blue” segueing, as on the record, into “I Got You”. The clarity, timing and poignancy of the word “alcohol” could have been a one-word advertisement for a 12-step program.
Next came “Black Eye”, from the second Uncle Tupelo record, March 16-20, 1992, followed by the Kinks chestnut “Oklahoma, USA”, an Eleanor Rigby-like portrait of a plain woman’s aging dreams of Rita Hayworth, Doris Day, Shirley Jones and Gordon MacRae.
Tweedy’s bouncy live attack on the Sesame Street-esque opening of “Outta Mind (Outta Site)” sounded straight outta the nursery of his 1-year-old son, Spencer Miller Tweedy, to whom the album Being There is dedicated. Later in the set, he kept a promise to play “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”, likely a particular cribside hit, but Bob Egan demurred and Tweedy moved on after one chorus.
“Someone Else’s Song” featured Egan’s pedal steel where the record uses the mandolin and keyboards, and Tweedy’s delivery seemed more pointed. If you consider this song a message to music critics, it’s easy to imagine its intensity feeding on responses to Being There, chock-a-block as it is with explicit references to other artists’ work. “Far, Far Away” was next, followed by a mesmerizing, blues-tinged “Kingpin”, with Tweedy slapping the body of his acoustic guitar.
The atonal clangor of “Sunken Treasure” had to be heard to be believed. Its intent and effect were barely diminished by the lack of studio effects and over half the band. Tweedy virtually spat out the added lyric, “I been blamed for rock n’ roll.” When the audience seemed temporarily stunned at the end, Tweedy filled the void with the comment, “an epic,” followed by a wry smile.
The most often repeated request of the night, “Alex Chilton!”, was rewarded when Tweedy obliged with a solo acoustic “Thirteen”, which Wilco has just recorded for a forthcoming Big Star tribute record. Tweedy went directly from “Thirteen” into the Beatles’ “I’m Only Sleeping”. Then, in response to a request, he played “Wait Up”, another song from March 16-20, replicating on guitar the banjo part played on the record by the Bottle Rockets’ Brian Henneman.
Tweedy wrapped up the main set with a rockin’ blues “Casino Queen”, which marked one of Bob Egan’s most significant contributions to the evening on dobro and slide. Later, in the first encore, Egan worked the same magic on an even lower-slung “Dreamer in my Dreams”.
“Misunderstood” was the highlight of the first encore. Integral as the production enhancements seem on the record, they are obviated live by the range of expression and sheer noise Tweedy and Egan wrench from a guitar and pedal steel. The audience was riveted. By the time Tweedy came to screaming “I want to thank you all for nothing”, it was the only sound in the room.
Also in the first encore were crowd favorites “Acuff Rose” and “The Long Cut”, both from Uncle Tupelo’s Anodyne, and a short sketch of a song referencing “beasts in the alley” and “peace in the valley.” Tweedy later said it was an unfinished and as-yet-unnamed original that he wanted to try out with a crowd.
By the second encore, tired as he must have been, Tweedy also seemed looser than he’d been all night. He led with “Too Far Apart” and “That’s Not the Issue”, both from A.M., the former seldom played live, the latter requested all night. He followed with Bob Dylan’s “One More Night”, a request deferred from early in the show.
Afterward, Tweedy complained of a stiff and sore neck; he suspected a contributing factor was the pleasure of carrying Spencer’s growing weight around. There’s no question who’s kingpin in Jeff Tweedy’s life these days.