Thursday, April 17, 2008

springtime comes

Though, in Chicago at least, neither were the leaves back on the trees again, nor (as far as I know) were the snipers harder to see, my friends. But after February's foolhardy stand, I'll accept anything short of a blizzard and a firing squad -- not that any threat, meteorological or otherwise, stood a chance against the collective warmth and joy of 30-odd friends reconvening for what has become an annual tradition: our show with Jeff Tweedy.

Jeff Tweedy, Hotel S'n'S, April 12, 2008: These weekends are always a whirlwind, no matter how many times we do them -- or maybe as a direct result of all the times we've done them and our ever escalating attempts to stuff as many activities as possible into too few days. The Cliff Notes version goes like this:
  • Rock 'n' Roll Hell, where the likes of Wesley Willis, Tammy Wynette, Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes, Don Ho, John Phillip Souza, Mimi Fariña, Dusty Springfield, Nico, multiple Ramones, Michael Hutchence, Laura Branigan, and the Motown greats raised our plastic cups to Guitar Hero, chocolate bacon bars, and Dave's birthday

    Rock 'n' Roll Hell

  • Hot Doug's, a delicious prelude to the evening's impending feast
  • Lots of grocery shopping, prepping, cooking, and domestic goddessing (and godding too, I suppose) for...
  • The potluck or, more accurately, Pork Fest 2008, featuring Jeff's succulent pork cheeks, Sooz's candied bacon, Daniel's saucy balls, Dick's savory meat -- and less carnivorously, various salads and desserts. Man, that was good stuff.

The spreadFortunately, we threw off the feedbags long enough to gather in the basement, where we settled in for the main event: Jeff Tweedy playing our requests.

These shows have always been amazing and wonderful, but I think we (with a valuable assist from Jeff) cobbled together a winning formula last year. Asking each of us for a real-time request instead of working from a setlist was a brilliant touch, reinforcing everyone's role in making the night so memorable and personal. We stuck with this game plan, but with one critical difference; this time, we didn't provide Jeff with a song list prior to the show.

Personally, I didn't think we'd need to, as I figured all of Wilco's songs were fair game following the residency, and odds were the majority of the selections would come from the band's catalog. But as devoted fans, any of us could name an old song or a cover that we loved and that Jeff was not necessarily prepared to play. And it's only natural that in this setting, some of us would at least try to get in the lesser-known titles. On that count, Jeff had to turn away some requests, but that was only fair, and heaven knows, we had no problems coming up with songs that he actually wrote.

The whole evening was pretty much a highlight reel, but one song in particular embodied all the best elements of the show and the gathering, and that would be "The Unwelcome Guest." It only took three years, but Alison finally got her request and then some, as our friends Mart Rivas and Dave Mirabella expertly accompanied Jeff on the tune. (For the record, Jeff knew about this one beforehand, so maybe there is an advantage to providing advance notice.) We were all so happy for Alison, especially since we got to enjoy the fringe benefits of her request. Regardless, it couldn't have happened to a nicer person.

Jeff Tweedy, Hotel SnS, 4-12-08

The other showstopper, without a doubt, was "Sir Duke," requested as a joke by Patti and originally intended as a collaboration between Jeff and Mart. Shortly into the song, however, Jeff changed his mind, sat down on the floor near Heidi, and ceded the stage to Mart, who brought it home in his trademark style. So much for knowing what to expect!

I could cite so many more incredible moments, from the achingly beautiful ("Thirteen," "More Like the Moon," "Be Not So Fearful") to the roaring pick-me-ups ("ELT," "Build Me Up Buttercup," "Airline to Heaven") to the simply sweet ("Summer Teeth," as requested by young Miles), and I would still leave out dozens more awesome songs. And I haven't even touched upon the funny stories, the good-natured banter, or the cozy comfort we enjoyed all night.

Jeff Tweedy, Hotel SnS, 4-12-08

The music and the food are easy to latch onto, but they don't tell the whole story. The evening wouldn't have been the same if it weren't for two more factors. The first is Jeff and Susan Tweedy's incredible generosity, without which none of this would be possible. For some reason, they keep letting us do this, though by now they should know full well what they're in for. If there's a next time, rest assured, we'll let Jeff prep for us.

The second is, well, us, as self-serving as that sounds. It's not exactly a groundbreaking concept, the idea that a group of people that know each other and genuinely enjoy one another's company can have a grand old night while listening to a treasured musician play songs they love. What's harder to get across, though, is how much this collective experience lifts the music and the friendships. If I could bring these pals along to every concert I attend, I would (we're trying!).

Jeff Tweedy, Hotel SnS, 4-12-08

Generally, I'm not a joiner. I haven't been to my high school or college reunions, I don't belong to any major social organizations, and I tend to bristle at any hint of a herd mentality. Yet for the last four years, I've disregarded weather forecasts, packed my bag with fashions gone long out of vogue, and jumped at the chance to be one of the gang. I'd even go as far as to suggest that in coming together, many of us have never been truer to ourselves. Who says you can't have your (maple bacon and/or Vietnamese coffee cup)cake and eat it too?

The full history
» i wish that i knew what I know now
» people say i'm crazy doing what i'm doing
» the message
» all the ladies and gentlemen
» that year
» turn our prayers to outrageous dares
» every day is dreamlike
» it's been a while


breaphene said...

What a lovely summation. Thanks for that. And just think: we got Unwelcome Guest and Maudie didn't even have to "make it worth Jeff's while!"

Paul said...

Just remember, "Dirty Old Town" for next year! I'm starting the campaign now. Mwah!

pneyu said...

Wait, we're already planning for next year? OK, put me down for Thai iced tea cupcakes (continuing the trend of Asian drink-inspired baked goods).