Tuesday, November 05, 2013

i wish that i knew what I know now

What convenes in a Chicago-area sunken room space, has 60-ish thumbs, and stuffs its collective face with potluck goodies over the course of 30-odd songs? This moi, whenever our annual show with Jeff Tweedy comes along.

Jeff Tweedy, Casa K&A, October 26, 2013: You read it right -- it took this long for everyone to coordinate their schedules and settle on a date for our show with Jeff Tweedy. On the upside, it gave many of us a chance to see each other again this year (following the Solid Sound shenanigans), indulge in seasonal treats, and find out what real weather feels like. On the downside -- actually, there was no downside except, maybe, that the weekend has to draw to an end at some point. [Cue single tear.]

First, a format change: Once more, we submitted our song choice(s) ahead of time, allowing Jeff to select and perhaps even practice the tunes that would work best for him. However, the final setlist was entirely Jeff's doing, as he mapped out a song order that allowed for his desired pacing, as well as (probably) more efficient tuning and switching between guitars. Overall, the show went more quickly and with less banter than usual. For one thing, we didn't have the guaranteed one-on-one moment with Jeff in which we voiced our suggestion and got in another word or two. And maybe due in part to the surfeit of new faces (which Jeff too noticed), the back-and-forth didn't flow as glibly. But it all worked out in the end.

For the opener, Jeff went with "Someone Else's Song" because -- as he noted -- we seemed to like other people's songs, a comment we've heard before. For what it's worth, the vast majority of songs played at these shows are Jeff's own, even when he isn't putting together the setlist, but we all gotta have a narrative (says the blogger of several years' standing). Right? Also early in the set, "Summer Teeth" helped break the ice, allowing us to collectively harmonize sooner rather than later.

Basement 2013

At the start, we stopped a handful of times to acknowledge who put in which request, but this practice quickly fell by the wayside. As The Valet™ later pointed out, some titles were put forward by more than one person, so it wasn't easy to single out an audience member for certain songs. In any case, the show went on.

This wholly betrays my bias, but I detected a strong streak of my beloved Being There among the selections, and as a group, we appeared to favor older songs. (For the record, my second choice was "Either Way," a relatively new track, as did others -- I hear -- but once again, it didn't make the cut.) Was that preferable to the sad songs we seemed to prefer in a previous gathering -- another Jeff quote? I can't say.

The song selections at Jeff's solo shows can be broken down into three groups: the favorites, which pretty much covers every song in wide release that Jeff's ever recorded; the rarities, which are harder-to-find B-sides, one-off tracks, collaborations, and the like; and the aforementioned covers. In this surrounding, we had barely an expected offering, as even the Yankee Hotel Foxtrot titles ("Radio Cure," "Pot Kettle Black") were deeper album cuts. Though "Radio King" and "Laminated Cat" are semi-staples of Jeff's solo sets, they're aired rarely enough overall to place a smile on your face and goosebumps on your skin when they pop up.

Some of us like to color within the lines, so to speak, and in that category, I'll cite Heidi's choice of "Only the Lord Knows," the other track written by Jeff for Mavis Staples, and my own request for the version of "I Got You" from the "This Is 40" soundtrack, even if Jeff couldn't quite remember how it ended. To be fair, I couldn't either, but I'm not a stickler that way. I realize it's a challenge for a performer, but as audience members, we're just trying to make our ideas count. Alternate theory: We're insufferable that way.

Let's face it, though -- we live for the songs Jeff wouldn't likely tackle on his own. I'm talking about covers, and we got a bumper crop this year. I can't break it down by numbers, but it felt like Jeff attempted more than usual, at time with a little help from the attendees.

Unsurprisingly, we got a nice Neil Young and Big Star bloc toward the end of the set, but a track by Linda Thompson snuck in there too. It's hard to believe it took this long for someone to request Johnny Cash, and I suspect a bunch of us had long wanted to ask for the Faces but were too afraid to say it. Once more, I apologize for subjecting the room to my live karaoke skills, but dammit, I spent too much of my formative years listening to the Ziggy Stardust album to pass up the opportunity to accompany Heidi in shouting out the lyrics to "Suffragette City" while Jeff played along on guitar. By the way, the best lyric from the song is not "wham bam thank you ma'am." Hands down, it's "this mellow-thighed chick just put my spine out of place." Fact!

Over the years, some of my favorite moments at these shows have involved Jeff teaming up with audience members -- that is, our friends -- to make sweet music. This gathering was no different. If I could walk away with only one memory¹ of the night, it would have to be a song on which Jeff didn't sing at all (no offense to the man himself, of course). Rather, Brooke, Jeff W, and Kris (aka the Traveling Dingleburys) commandeered the stage for "Handle With Care," with Jeff on second guitar². I don't think many of us knew what to expect at first, but the singalong kicked as soon as we recognized the tune. Man, that was fun.

Basement 2013

We ended with our traditional closer of "Candyfloss," requested by Jeff himself. The newbies -- including the junior members of the Tweedy family -- complied as we urged them to get up and dance along. With the music portion over, photos and socializing followed. Admittedly, we failed to check off a couple of our usual activities this year, but hey, we're only human.

Is nine enough? On the one hand, I would've been happy after the first time, but thanks to the chemical imbalance in my brain, I could do this again and again. As of this writing, the fate of these shows is murky, but whether or not we get an encore, I can easily attest I've treasured each and every one.

--Someone Else's Song
--Sometimes It Happens [Linda Thompson/Brian Patten]
--Summer Teeth
--If That's Alright
--Wait Up
--Childlike and Evergreen
--Pick Up the Change
--Handle With Care [The Traveling Wilburys]
--Say You Miss Me
--Company in My Back
--Radio King
--Radio Cure
--Pot Kettle Black
--Via Chicago
--Laminated Cat
--Listening to the Wind That Blows [Woody Guthrie]
--Should've Been in Love
--Forget the Flowers
--The Late Greats
--Motion Pictures [Neil Young]
--My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue) [Neil Young]
--Thirteen [Big Star]
--Blue Moon [Big Star]
--Only the Lord Knows
--Venus Stopped the Train
--Ooh La La [The Faces]
--I Got You (At The End of the Century) ("This Is 40" arrangement)
--Ring of Fire [Johnny Cash]
--Suffragette City [David Bowie] (crowd singalong)
--Dreamer in My Dreams

¹ A close second in terms of memories of the night: The performer exiting with his surprise rider of fried chicken and popcorn.

² Jeff was probably expected to be third guitar in the setup, but as Tamala pointed out, another Jeff forgot to play along when it was his time to sing.

³ I've included the setlist here only because the guy who does this hasn't updated his blog in two years.

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