What's the only thing that can make me skip town and miss a musical meeting between two of my favorite artists? An even more intimate show with that other favorite musician, of course. Thus, I bid adieu to Los Angeles (by way of Ontario) and said hello to Chicago for our sixth annual show with Jeff Tweedy at the Hotel S'n'S.
Jeff Tweedy, Hotel S'n'S, August 28, 2010: Ordinarily, it'd be hard to get excited over a six-year milestone unless you're, say, a U.S. senator up for reelection. Five years is much easier to wrap your head around--there's even a convenient Bowie anthem (just don't pay too much attention to the lyrics). But six years? You're kinda on your own.
However, the number was less important to us than other circumstances of this gathering. Rumor has it that this will be the last year that Jeff and Susan Tweedy will offer a concert as part of the Letters to Santa auction. You can hardly blame the Tweedys--these engagements require a massive amount of coordination among all parties, which is one of the reasons we couldn't convene until a good eight months after the auction itself. Also, we've been known to wring a lot of songs out of Jeff; it's no exaggeration to say we get every penny's worth from him. If this development turns out to be true, of course we'll be sad to miss out on the show, but we'll be even sadder without our annual reunion to look forward to.
This intel hung over us somewhat throughout the day, but it couldn't put a damper on our celebration, and it definitely didn't stop us from enjoying each other's company. In fact, this may have been the most relaxed I've felt at any of our shows in all this time. The food-to-people ratio remained ridiculous but manageable, the greetings were sweaty and heartfelt, and the furious last-minute scrapbooking yielded what I hope were charmingly ragged results. We even had a keg!
That's not to say all this happens automatically. Even under more casual concert conditions, we've been known to plot and prepare a bit (or more) behind the scenes when we know it'll help bring about the desired outcome. In the case of these shows with Jeff, he gets a prospective list of requests ahead of time so that he isn't caught unaware; we often supply lyrics as well, though on-site Googling and printing aren't unheard of. This year, we also had a recording rig in place, though I think we've all made peace with the idea that an audio memento of the night may or may not surface. (Some years, of course, we've had no choice in the matter.)
We had another provision in place for this outing: The newbies would get first crack at the requests so that their turns wouldn't be lost in the mix. They chipped in with some good ones, including an Elizabeth Cotten cover, and one of our newer compatriots even got to play with Jeff on "Impossible Germany."
I want to mention that our goal is never to stump Jeff; rather, we just want to hear the melding of some of those classic lyrics and melodies with his distinctive voice and phrasings. He was more than up for the challenge this year, interpreting songs by the aforementioned Elizabeth Cotten (it's worth repeating), as well as Harry McClintock and Creedence Clearwater Revival, and he returned to more familiar territory with Bob Dylan and Richard and Mimi Farina.
Of all these wonderful covers, I need to single out two in particular: Neil Young's "Look Out for My Love," which became an impromptu duet with our indispensable Canadian ambassador, and the Pogues' "Dirty Old Town," a wish finally fulfilled after several attempts, albeit without the accompaniment of any pipes, uilleann or otherwise. As we discussed later, maybe the spirit of the last show finally motivated him to dispatch the Pogues tune--but far be it from us to look this gift horse in the mouth. The bottom line: Score!
Of course, Jeff's songs figured most prominently in this set, both from side projects and across the entire history of Wilco. Paul came prepared for "Childlike and Evergreen," but the 7-inch single remained safely tucked away, as Jeff performed it without the audio aid. Both Martin and Jeff had fun with "Kamera," and Johnny's request netted us the relatively rare "Country Disappeared." I feel obligated to lodge a small complaint that Jeff couldn't remember how to play my request (though he wrote it?!?), but here's hoping that a future show--preferably one that I'm attending--will benefit from the reminder.
I honestly don't mind if this does turn out to be the last show we get to do with Jeff, but the final songs on the setlist helped us achieve the sense of closure. We couldn't leave without our customary capper, the "Candyfloss" singalong and dance party, but its immediate predecessor summed up everything we've ever felt and wanted to say during this six-year span of shows--and, in some cases, our even lengthier friendships. From the moment we first heard Wilco covering this Big Star tune during the band's spring "evening with" sojourn, I knew it had to be a part of our final gig. The song, of course, is "Thank You Friends," which is pretty much all you need to say at this point (not that it's stopped me from rambling on for far too long).
Every year has been a gift, and I continue to be amazed that we could sustain the shows for this long. No doubt I'll see many of these gorgeous faces in future adventures, but it won't be the same until we can gather under one roof again. It's worth repeating: Thank you, friends!
The full history
» i wish that i knew what I know now
» people say i'm crazy doing what i'm doing
» the message
» that year
» springtime comes
» turn our prayers to outrageous dares
» every day is dreamlike
» it's been a while