Jeff Tweedy, Largo at the Coronet, January 3-4, 6-7, 2019Now that Jeff has booked his third run at Largo, I suppose these dates no longer count as a rarity, but they remain a massive treat, and I refuse to take them for granted. I hope to make these shows for as long as I can, using as much subterfuge and obfuscation as necessary.
The fact that Jeff had played the West Coast only a few months prior, ostensibly promoting the same material, made me wonder how these shows might differ from the recent tour. Truth be told, the first night felt a bit like a continuation of that tour, albeit with a little rust as Jeff eased back into professional form. When you see Jeff and Wilco enough times, you start to recognize the standby tracks, which help both the audience and the performer(s) gain their footing and suss out one another. The first night included most of the songs that comprised the bulk of the setlist from the fall tour -- a reasonable expectation for Jeff's return.
The second night was another story altogether. Though Jeff kicked off with a couple of Warm tracks, he eventually rolled out some B-sides and Uncle Tupelo songs. However, I was gobsmacked by "Via Chicago," a song I've heard a jillion times at this point, but something about Jeff's cadence, the notes from the harmonica, and maybe even the room's reverence hit me between the eyes and moved me to tears. As much as I love the song, I can't recall the song's inherent loneliness striking me so deeply ever before. As Jeff played the final notes, Evonne and I turned to each other and discovered that we were both drying our eyes. In fact, it was so good that I barely minded the woman sitting next to me who laughed at the opening lines of the song.
I don't know if Jeff did this on purpose, but he made subtle changes to the classic tracks that night. He changed up the cadence and maybe the tunings. Actually, I don't know about the second part, but they weren't the same renditions we're used to. Maybe it was the rust again, or maybe Jeff wanted to try something new. In any case, they sounded amazing.
The somewhat complementary aspect of the first two nights led me to muse if the third and fourth nights would continue this theme, but -- spoiler alert -- they didn't. Instead, Jeff stuck to the core set, then sprinkled in deep cuts of his choice, including brand-new songs from the forthcoming Warmer, his follow-up solo record, expected this spring. Among these tracks, "One Sunday Morning" in particular stuck out to me. I mean, if you can't pull off a wordy, melancholy 12-minute (the studio version, anyway) at Largo, where can you do it? Still, it's not part of the regular rotation, so I tend to pay attention when it comes up.
No one asks anymore, but every now and then, a friend or acquaintance finds it hard to believe that I would see multiple consecutive shows by Jeff and Wilco. This time, I can point to a single song that made the whole trip worthwhile. Last year, Spencer and Sammy took the stage to sing and play a couple of songs. On this occasion, they joined their father for an old British folk tune ("Bright Phoebus," according to Paul), their voices melding in the way that only family can do. Their pride in and love for each other was visible, and I'm sure every face was smiling at the sight and sounds -- none more so than Jeff himself. Chalk it up as another Only at Largo (tm) moment.
Of course, it wasn't all sad songs, as we joined Jeff in singalongs for "Let's Go Rain" and "California Stars," among other tunes (though a couple of audience members raised questions about whether we should lend our vocals if not asked to do so). Jeff also took questions every night and shared a bunch of stories, including a hilarious anecdote about a Best Chest in the West contest at a bar he and his fellow musicians frequented after shows at Mississippi Nights. The questions on the whole, however, were less inspiring.
These shows happened to fall on the same weekend as the Golden Globe Awards, and Jeff plumbed this coincidence for tons of banter during the last two dates. But the scheduling did, in fact, result in some celebs not showing up until Monday night. Jeff had some fun with other California stereotypes, claiming to have used CBD cream for aches and pains in his playing arm. Fortunately, he reported no toilet paper deficits at the Airbnb this time.
Jeff had a different opener every night: Nick Offerman, Sarah Silverman, Tom Pappa, and Jeff Garlin, in that order. Tom Pappa was the most polished of the group, even though he subjected some of your favorite front-row faithful to his banter. The others pulled off less polished, more informal sets (which is often the case at Largo), but were all quite entertaining in their own way.
Finally, Andrew van Baal, who co-directed the Largo movie so long ago, filmed at least two of the shows from this run. It's anyone's guess how this footage will be used or even if the general public will get to see it, but at least we know it's in good hands.
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