Monday, March 23, 2015

are you scared? are you frightened?

This doesn't happen very often -- a Jeff Tweedy project taking a year to reach the Bay Area, one of his most dedicated fan bases. Granted, Tweedy made its only West Coast appearance last year with the date at Hardly Strictly in October, but that barely scratches the itch for some of us. Nope, we want the full two-hour treatment, complete with encore. Perhaps to make up for the absence, Tweedy gave San Francisco two dates at the Fillmore, and all was right in the world again.

TweedyTweedy, the Fillmore, March 17-18, 2015: Think of your favorite bands or performers. Then think of how many of their side projects you choose to check out. Overall, the ratio is pretty low for me, unless you are related to Wilco and are headed to my town. Even then, the interest can vary widely (see: Autumn Defense). Hell, I skipped some Nels Cline shows in the past few months, but Jeff Tweedy is another matter all together.

I'm going to resist the urge to make comparisons between Wilco and Tweedy. Obviously, the seeds are there, and you can draw a direct line between the songs, but that's kind of boring. In fact, I'll make only one connection between Tweedy and Wilco: Both bands foster an informal, comfortable atmosphere -- more kin than corporation. In fact, when Jeff started in with a few jabs at Liam Cunningham, he had to inform us sensitive Californians that's how they show affection in the Midwest.

I generally avoid potential spoilers for gigs, steering clear of all reports preceding the concert, and Tweedy was no different. However, the blueprint for the band had been set out with the Hardly Strictly slot: mostly songs from the record, with an acoustic segment, and wrapped up in a full-band reprise. In this more formal setting, we got more of both. I was particularly excited to hear tunes from Sukierae, as the Hardly Strictly set didn't allow much time for the newest tracks. As a bonus, over two nights, the band naturally played rarer songs that wouldn't necessarily get a chance in a one-night stand.

Two examples: "Slow Love" (we did well with the backing vocals, and I coincidentally adore the song) and "Pigeons," which hardly ever happens (I'm told). Among the everyday tracks, it's no stretch to call "Diamond Light" the coolest song in the set. It offers a fantastic contrast to all the waltzes (Jeff's note) on the record, and Spencer gets to show off his prodigious drumming skills -- killing all suspicions of nepotism. The rapport with Darin Gray and both Tweedys is also a pleasure to watch and a bonus atop the tune itself.


The kinda hits "Summer Noon" and "Low Key" were fun and delightful, but a couple of other tunes off the record surprised me. Jeff's voice and lyrics jumped out from the simplicity of "Fake Fur Coat," and I loved how the storytelling of "Nobody Dies Anymore" rolled out at its own pace (even when the Fillmore's air conditioning kicked in at full throttle in the middle of the song on the second night).

OK, I'll make one more Wilco comparison: As with Wilco's early tours, Tweedy fills out the single album of material with Jeff's solo set, then caps off the evening with beloved covers. The solo set can be far-ranging, though he has a few favorites ("I Am Trying to Break Your Heart," "Remember the Mountain Bed," "One Wing," "Hummingbird," "I'm The Man Who Loves You"). "Lost Love" (for which I campaigned so strenuously 10 years ago) put a huge smile on my face the first night, and "Radio King" was a request granted to a woman in the audience. Also, no one I know ever complains when an Uncle Tupelo track makes an appearance.


One advantage to hitting both shows: You get the full range of covers, which meant both Doug Sahm and John Lennon. The latter has been one of my favorites since I was a teenager, and changing "Yoko and me" to "Spencer and me" was a sweet touch. Regarding Doug Sahm, how awesome does it sound with full band backing?! You don't have to answer that.


As you can imagine, the show had its share of diversions. The first night, a young brother-and-sister duo (aged 10 and 8, respectively) made their way to the front and somehow knew all the words to the Neil Young cover. They and their parents became a comedic foil to Jeff for much of the night, in good fun of course.

The second night (which wasn't even St. Patrick's Day) saw a more boisterous crowd, who decided to clap along to "Forget the Flowers," with predictable results. Jeff threatened to switch to one of his rhythm-less dirges to discourage the efforts, but ended up mocking them with his version of their beat-keeping. In all, we ended up with a three-part rendition of the song: (1) bad clapping; (2) spoken word; (3) traditional. As usual, I've killed all the comedy, but believe me, it was a hoot to witness. Also, Jeff had a running commentary on the (small) school of flies swarming to his unwashed mass -- again, funnier in execution than in my description -- which inspired a concert-goer to throw a pack of Handi Wipes onstage.

We got different openers over the two nights at the Fillmore. The first evening, Eleanor Friedberger took the honors, and she was fantastic. It's been a while since I've listened to the Fiery Furnaces, but compared to their sound, she was more straightforward and accessible. She brought up memories of Patti Smith for many of us, partly because of her hair and her voice, but also with the directness and power of her set. She was thrilling and revelatory.

The second night, the Minus 5 took the stage, with yet another lineup: Michael Giblin, Linda Pitmon, and Peter Buck joining Scott McCaughey. They played it fairly straight, though Jeff had to remark on their surprise addition of Neil Young's "Revolution Blues" when Tweedy came to "The Losing End." As far as I'm concerned, Linda Pitmon stole the show. She totally rocked it, most notably when both Scott and Peter's guitars went out at the same time.

Was Tweedy worth the one-year wait? You know it! Lucky for me, I had one show left on this tour. Stay tuned!

See also:
» summer noon
» it's been a while
» low key

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