Review: Jeff Tweedy

Jeff Tweedy (Wilco): The Union Chapel, Islington: 30 June 2010

One day, all concerts will be like this. A beautiful, intimate venue; a respectful, enthusiastic and knowledgeable crowd; and a singer who is only metres from the crowd, and engages in plenty of banter and discussion.

It might be too much to ask that every gig is also preceded by the singer’s spouse and young children walking through the crowd, writing down requests – but let’s ask for that anyway. If Jeff can do it, I’m sure other artists can as well.

Now I’m a big Wilco fan, have seen them nine times in four or five different countries. But anyone who follows their shows will know that they’ve tended to become a bit samey (though the recent 38 or 39 song shows they’ve played in the US have been more interesting – but not something duplicated outside of the US unfortunately). And they tend to lean heavily on the newer material – with only 5 or 6 songs from Summerteeth or earlier appearing in the set. That’s understandable, especially as most of the band joined during Yankee or afterwards. But still, I’d much rather hear some of the earlier stuff that I’ve never heard before than another run through of I Am Trying to Break Your Heart or Handshake Drugs.

So I was looking forward to seeing Tweedy solo, mainly because he was more likely to dig up the older Wilco stuff.

And I wasn’t disappointed: he started with Someone Else’s Song (last heard on my birthday at the Forum, performed without amplification), and it was great. Of course. Jeff dug out some other early classics (Remember the Mountain Bed, Someday Some Morning Sometime and California Stars among them, as well as a few Uncle Tupelo songs). But just as impressive was the reimagining of more recent, noisier Wilco tracks – Spiders sounded amazing done with just one guitar, as did Impossible Germany (which he stopped half-way through when he realised he couldn’t play Nels’ solo).

One of the highlights came early, when Jeff invited British folksinger Bill Fay up on stage to join him in a performance of Fay’s Be Not so Fearful – a long-time Wilco favourite. An especially moving moment for Jeff and for Bill, who obviously appreciated the crowd’s response. Another great cover was So Much Wine by the underappreciated Handsome Family (“one of my favourite country songs”).

I mentioned requests: Jeff has a fairly sardonic stage presence at the best of times, so even when he’s doing someone a favour, he injects a fair bit of mockery into it. As he read over the requests list: “some asshole named David requested ‘any Bob Dylan song'” (he played Simple Twist of Fate). Another woman was castigated for requesting a song off his first album – “I’ve made 10 records since then, what’s wrong with them?”. He played it anyway.

And I somehow managed to get into an argument with him about what one of his songs was called: I’d requested Not for the Season, which is what it’s called on the Wilco documentary; but it had been recorded by his side project Loose Fur as Laminated Cat. We had a short debate about this which ended, naturally, with Jeff taking the piss out of me and most of the crowd laughing. Oh well. He still played it anyway.

A great night, with only two bad points: we’re not allowed to take alcohol into the venue itself, though there’s a bar upstairs; and the absolutely appalling support act – “comedian” Patrick Monahan, possibly the least unfunny comic I’ve ever seen (Jeff bantering with the crowd for half an hour would have been much better). Never mind – the combination of poor support and lack of alcohol meant I could spend his set in the bar.

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About simonchamberlain

New Zealand librarian and music fan, living in London.
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