I don't necessarily miss freelancing, but nowadays, I have to jump on that rare combination of shows that offer advantageous timing and worthwhile venues. The two Jeff Tweedy benefit gigs in Chicago over the Presidents Day weekend fit that bill perfectly.
Jeff Tweedy, Vic Theatre, February 13-14, 2009: Four years ago, I went to the first Jeff Tweedy benefit shows for Kawasaki disease research, among my favorite concerts ever, thanks to the cause, the music, and the collection of friends it brought together. This year was the first time I've been able to attend them again, but it's been so rewarding to see the gigs evolve and grow.
The benefits have certainly come a long way since that debut, when a dear friend essentially wrote the awesome setlist. Now, the first 30-odd fans in line choose the songs for Jeff to play (though he ultimately retains veto power). Call me selfish; though I'm no stranger to this approach, I assure you it doesn't get old.
Certainly, I have a high threshold for repetition; otherwise, I wouldn't sign up to hear many of these songs for the umpteenth time. But the shows included more surprises than I expected. Not from me, though--I hedged my bets and put in a couple of fail-proof requests: "Lost Love" and "Someday Soon," the latter with an impressive helping hand from the audience. Following the game plan for the night, Jeff credited each requester with their request. He came through for the former, even pronouncing my name correctly for the first time I can recall, but forgot on the second round--life goes on, however. Except for one major omission--and an equally sincere apology for said oversight--our gang got in all of our favorites, including "Blasting Fonda," "More Like the Moon," "All the Same to Me," and "The Long Cut."
My favorites, though, came from other quarters. There was the supremely enthusiastic fan in the front row who asked for the divine "So Much Wine" by the Handsome Family; at the other extreme, grudging thanks go out to the drunk guy in the balcony yelling for "I Wanna Be Your Dog." The other noteworthy cover of the night was "Fake Plastic Trees," which is a current staple of Jeff's sets. And in terms of originals, the acoustic version of "Hate It Here" worked a lot better than Jeff predicted. Of these relative rarities, "Fake Plastic Trees" perhaps suffered a bit in the solo acoustic environment, but the pathos in Jeff's vocals was undeniable.
Tying together these songs and the entire performance was a supremely sarcastic singer. We may have laid out a respectable amount of dough for our tickets, but no one was safe from his barbs, be they parents from the school, the drunken peanut gallery in the balcony, or those with odd, obscure, or inappropriate requests. When he wasn't talking to the audience, Jeff directed many of his comments--also odd, obscure, and inappropriate--at his wife, Susan. He didn't exactly deliver a musical love letter as he had in Los Angeles three years ago, but the humor--and ultimately, the charm--came through.
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