The thumb--that's what I was told, though it turned out to be closer to the cuticle bed (see below). A fish boil, custard, primo seats, and a welcome confluence of friends were also promised, and that's how I ended up with a snug little sojourn to Wisconsin--specifically, Fish Creek--to see Jeff Tweedy at the Door County Auditorium.
Jeff Tweedy, Door County Auditorium, July 8, 2011: I'm the very picture of summer right now. Unfortunately, that doesn't mean sun-flecked tresses and a bikini body. Instead, I'm peeling on top, while my legs are dotted with mosquito bites, all for the love of music. I brought the former upon myself by forgoing sunblock at the Neko Case gig and contracted the latter at the Jeff Tweedy show in Fish Creek, Wisconsin (actually, in the run-up to the concert itself). If I can pick up a case of Lyme disease, say, at Outside Lands, my season will be complete. At least we didn't get electrocuted at Solid Sound?
Now that I'm home with a bottle of calamine lotion and have stopped swatting at myself, I can unequivocally say Fish Creek is irresistibly charming, in the style of remote resort destinations all over the country. For me, it brought to mind Cambria along California's central coast; you could also compare it to the Hamptons in New York, except with its own signature attractions, such as the fish boil mentioned previously.
One of the small pleasures of rock tourism is hearing a song perfectly matched to the surroundings. The opening "Spiders," which I always love in its acoustic form, was an aha moment, but that may be more due to my ignorance of local geography. The natives and other nearby denizens were probably much more aware that we were minutes away from Lake Michigan, obliquely referenced in the tune.
It appears that most people want to know about the new songs, and according to our go-to setlist guy, four new titles were played. As reported by Jeff, "I Might" qualifies as an "international hit"; I suspect he's quoting a DJ from the Chicago airwaves. The thing about the new songs is that I'm sure the album versions sound completely different with the full band input. I noticed each tune had its own personality, though the critics will undoubtedly find a way to apply a blanket statement to the entire record. I'll spare you further analysis, except to say I'm totally in love with "Born Alone" already.
Another pleasure of a Jeff Tweedy solo show is seeing which of the rarer tracks he'll pull out or what song you thought you knew will be reinterpreted. I'll single out two tunes in the latter category, though for completely different reasons. "Pecan Pie" completely fell apart, as Jeff could barely remember the lyrics and repeatedly mixed up the sequence of lines. It didn't help that during the course of the day we had stumbled upon a mashup of "Ticket to Ride" and "Pecan Pie," so we were useless as well. (Seriously, try singing one song to the other melody--it kind of works.)
On a more serious note, "Bull Black Nova" was credited as a request from "Eddd," and it was a complete revelation. The song's insistent paranoia has been a highlight of full band shows, especially by the time they get to the ending howls. Pared down to one voice and one guitar, it took on a new dimension, especially in Jeff's choice to downplay and whisper the last line. Let me put it this way: If Wilco's version is the sweeping big-budget thriller about a psycho killer and his impulses, then Jeff's solo performance is the indie film that puts you right in the murderer's head. Think "Silence of the Lambs" versus "Dexter"? (Note: I've never watched "Dexter.") If I had a car, I'd still be checking my backseat every night to make sure it was empty.
We got tons of banter from Jeff too, which isn't always a given, but he held court at length on "American Idol," offering his impressions (in both senses of the word) of both Randy Jackson and Jennifer Lopez. Trust me--he's no Rich Little, but the bigger surprise was probably Jeff's wholesale fandom of the show. There was also a moment with the young boy seated front and center, who, when asked by Jeff if this was his first show, shot down the singer's hopes and dreams. As a direct result, a familiar face bore the brunt of Jeff's disappointment, but we know it was in good fun.
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