Wednesday, January 01, 2014

every night is a test

Look, I've been waiting to write this review forever -- like, maybe since the moment I started blogging -- and even I know there's no way to fully encapsulate all my excitement and giddiness going into these shows. Regardless, here's my attempt at a coherent account of the dates I only dared dream about. Behold, dear readers, Jeff Tweedy's four-night stand at Largo at the Coronet.

Jeff Tweedy at LargoJeff Tweedy, Largo at the Coronet, December 15, 16, 18, 19, 2013: Two glances at this blog, and my favorites should scream out at you. Bring any of these favorites together, and I'll be the one doing the screaming. I suppose it wasn't so shocking an announcement following the night of two Jeffs from last year, but you can't believe it until you see it. That's all I'm going to say about the anticipation around these gigs, except that I was as surprised as anyone that we came up with tickets for all four nights of Jeff's shows, thanks to a lot of diligence and a little help when we needed it.

Almost two weeks (as of this writing) on from the final night of the residency, and I can't begin to compile a comprehensive review, but I'll try to cover the memorable points, based on both my long-standing attendance at Largo and at Jeff's shows, starting with perhaps my biggest takeaway of this run: These were the most intimate solo gigs I've yet seen, and that includes some of the living room shows I've attended. What can you say? Chalk it up to the Largo ambiance and the spell it casts on attending artists.

Actually, make that two takeaways: Jeff has really been honing his Don Rickles routine.

Regarding the music selections, Jeff worked up an admirable streak of songs without repeats, and when the favorites came back on the fourth and final night, they remained few in number and mostly covered the singalong needs. Even as a longtime fan, I was impressed by Jeff's commitment to originality. Here's the shocker, though: Jeff could probably do a few more nights of shows and never repeat a track, if he so wanted.

Honestly, I was perfectly all right with the handful of second airings. Am I a sucker for B-sides and alternative arrangements? Yes, but I also love it when an entire room comes together to sing the backing vocals, harmonies, and sound effects on the more popular tunes.

But about those rarities: Damn, Jeff dug deep. Having just attended the Fillmore shows, the solo tour debuts didn't hit me between the eyes as before, but spread out over the course of four nights, what would've been bonus tracks on any other tour were an immense treat. "Anniversary" (known as "Nothing Up My Sleeve" on the YHF demos) was the shocker and delight, but any set of gigs that counts "Dash 7," "Blasting Fonda," and "Shaking Sugar" (to name just three) on the setlists has to go down in the books.

At both the Fillmore and Largo shows (and probably others), Jeff delivered a couple of spiels about Wilco's lack of hits, not to mention the sad state of the modern music industry -- specifically, how the business's shortfallings are preventing Beyonce from rightfully pulling Thriller numbers. True, by no measure can Wilco be said to have radio hits, but this is a band with album tracks that qualify as beloved songs and crowd favorites, and as fans, we welcome these titles that aren't always guaranteed to make the setlist. Speaking for myself, I'll point as usual to the Being There tracks ("Outta Mind," aka the Sesame Street version; "Red-Eyed & Blue" leading directly to the -- ahem! -- This Is 40 arrangement of "I Got You"). I'll also take a moment to appreciate the inclusion of "Lost Love," one of my most treasured tracks. And I finally heard the "At Least That's What You Said"/"Always in Love" medley!

One concern I had going into these shows had to do with Largo itself -- that is, the club's incredibly reverential atmosphere. It's a blessing overall, but with Jeff's shows, I'm used to a more boisterous environment, and in case this isn't already obvious, I like a solid singalong. On this -- and only this -- count, Largo underwhelmed. On the first night, we tried our best in the chorus of "Someday Soon," and on the second night, we took another stab at crowd participation with the "Red-Eyed & Blue"/"I Got You" rock block, which even moved Jeff to consider more songs we could add to -- and I don't mind saying my no-brainer request for "Summer Teeth" got the nod. However, the singalong didn't quite materialize in Largo's hallowed environs, not even on such staples as "Jesus, etc.," "Heavy Metal Drummer," "California Stars," or "Passenger Side." I'm not exactly a champion of these tunes, but I appreciate their group participation qualities, and I missed that unity at the show.

Need more proof? These may have been the only times in my experience no one crowed at the gimme lines in "Sunken Treasure" or "Misunderstood."

I'm not sure what happened as the week progressed, but on the second night, Largo's house manager added an unusual request to the customary (and welcome) orders to turn off your phones, cameras, and recording equipment: He asked us not to sing along. This was the first I'd heard of it, and I suspect it originated from a belligerent attendee lodging a complaint. What had felt like an already muted crowd took it down another notch, at least until the tail end of the final night when a fan inquired about the ban, which was the first Jeff had heard of it. Unfortunately, Jeff's song selection at that point didn't alleviate the issue, as the fans didn't seem to quite know the words to some of the tunes he wanted to play. Then again, we were a little too enthusiastic on "The Thanks I Get," so not everyone was deathly quiet.

If I had to cite a solitary track from this run as the standout, it'd have to be "Hate It Here." Even casual fan might think they've heard this song plenty, but due to the night's alchemy, Jeff tried it out as a laid-back spoken-word affair that surprised everyone, himself included. I have a hard time imagining the same version becoming a setlist mainstay -- so I'm glad I heard its debut.

The setlists tell you a lot about the shows, but there's much more to the story -- namely, the tomes and tomes of banter pouring out of Jeff every night. Granted, he was battling a cold or a flu, so perhaps the chatter was slightly less taxing on his vocals than attempting to sing. Er, you don't need to hear my impersonation of a medical professional, but take my word that Jeff was hi-larious.

Regarding the above Don Rickles comment, at the Fillmore shows, Jeff mocked the "whoo!" and "ow!" guys who inevitably pipe up at any show, usually in response to some track they think they recognize. There was also an extended discussion of the one-way San Francisco-Los Angeles rivalry and San Franciscans' neediness, but that's another topic. Anyway, that story resurfaced in Los Angeles, but I think Jeff got in a dig at Angelenos' stereotypically shallow reputation when he asked, "Have you ever finished reading a book ... ever?" This dialog, by the way, came about from Jeff's recent reading of Mike Tyson's memoirs and its effects on the singer's own psyche.

Also in both San Francisco and Los Angeles, he didn't come down very kindly on the clappers, especially their misplaced rhythm. In both locales, I believe he called the guilty parties "Germanic" due to their dependence on the 1 and the 3, and I'm pretty sure in Los Angeles, he got in an aside about giving white people a bad reputation (or something along those lines). As if that weren't enough, you'd have to see Jeff's physical comedy to believe it, as he pulled off a Deliverance-worthy enactment of a fan's unwelcome clapping, as well as the physical contortions, aka "bass butt," of overly serious musicians.

Greg Kihn, Dave Grohl, Peter O'Toole, and Dr. Luke, among others, came up in conversation too. As for Jeff's admiration/repudiation for David Lee Roth, I fully understand where he's coming from, and I'll point once again to my ultimate moment of recognition from 30 Rock: The One with the Cast from 'Night Court'

There's a good chance my words can't convey the full import of these atypical song selections and unexpected actions and their cumulative effect, so let me spell it out: For all the Jeff Tweedy shows I've seen, including our fantastic series of living room/basement/private gigs, I've never seen Jeff look so comfortable. If I had to guess at a reason for this openness, it's without a doubt due to Largo's no-cameras, no-recording policy, which is only one facet of its overall reputation as an artist's haven. I know I whined a little about the unrocklike quietude of the theater, but in the big picture, it was a small price to pay to see a musician at his most unguarded.

Perhaps no incident better exemplifies Jeff's utter ease and comfort as his story about converting to Judaism, specifically his interactions with the mohel. I won't attempt to retell the story, except to note it wouldn't have been half as effective without Jeff's role-playing as the mohel. It's almost as if we went to a rock show and a one-man play broke out.

Jeff Garlin opened for Jeff Tweedy all four nights, with short, off-the-cuff sets every evening. Some of the stories worked better than others, but I'll always be grateful to him for introducing his friend to one of my favorite places in the world and, thus, making a dream come true.

Ahead of the dates, I nursed bigger and much less reasonable fantasies about these shows involving guest collaborations and other fanfic musings, but in the end, they didn't need any dressing up. They delivered so much more than I expected, all on their own.

I can't wait to do it again.

See also:
» so flattered by fate
» let your helmet warm your skull
» i wish that i knew what I know now
» winter comes
» manifestation of desire
» Gillian, David, Sean, Sara, Jon, Greg

1 comment:

BeeKay said...

Great recap. I could do this every December...