Concerts Concerts The Jeff Tweedy Experience

The Jeff Tweedy Experience

Jeff Tweedy at The Queen Elizabeth Theatre
Jeff Tweedy
Queen Elizabeth Theatre
March 23, 2011

Review by: Chad Hutchings
Photos by: Greg Abramowitz

On March 23rd, Sticky Magazine joined an awed audience to see an alt-rock legend take the stage.

Jeff Tweedy

This week, Jeff Tweedy (the familiar face at the front of Wilco) played a two-night run at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, accompanied by nothing but a single spotlight, a truckload of acoustic guitars, and one crumpled suit. After taking in the final performance of the pair, I find myself struggling with what should be said.

You see, there's a constant battle for objectivity while writing these reviews. We must become agents of the truth, watching for the hits and misses and trying to keep the whole mess away from the funhouse mirror of our own dirty biases. Of course, what's most often unacknowledged is that the best performances are the ones that suck us in so completely that we overlook all of the snags and technical details that make criticizing oh so easy.   When it comes down to it, most of us are really hoping to find that show that we struggle with; we want to find that elusive white whale of a performance that draws us in for a dozen songs and leaves us wondering where the night went, in a half-panic over the fact that we didn't notice anything to write about other than our feelings. Despite my having never been much of a Wilco fan, Jeff Tweedy's Wednesday appearance turned out to be one of those rare shows.

Jeff Tweedy packed lightly for the tour. The usual pomp and fanfair of the big rock show was nowhere nearby, replaced instead by a single, dissheveled artist standing on a dark stage in a darker room, circled by a half-moon of guitars beneath that one spotlight. But with so little to look at, as you can guess, there were no distractions from a performance that would later have me breaking the spine on my thesaurus to find every synonym for "intimate" to squeeze into this piece (all since removed to save the word count). 

With just his small army of guitars, Tweedy translated his music from Wilco, Loose Fur, and Uncle Tupelo to acoustic so cleanly and comfortably that the night was less a collection of performed songs, and more of a seamless, immersive experience. The forgotten lyrics of "Pecan Pie" fed his clever, comfortable banter (talk which surprisingly touched on previous severe drug addictions), and a waiver in his falsetto was followed by a crooked grin and a powerful push in his vocals that showed Tweedy's technical talent could stand shoulder to shoulder with his legendary song-writing and his polished stage presence.

To take in the show, my seat ended up to be dead-center in the room, immersed in the crowd and well set to get a proper handle on their reverence for the performer on stage. I've since heard about the obnoxious audience from the night before, but that wasn't the case here. The group was awed, and there wasn't a flashing camera or a lit cell phone screen to be seen. Their shouts to the stage were reigned by Tweedy as conversation, each comment serving as fodder for his quick wit and repartee (I will from here on maintain that he is easily the most clever artist I've seen on stage). In fact, the biggest disturbance came from an unprompted sing-along that sprang out of nowhere when the audience couldn't contain themselves during "Summer Teeth", and it just served to make Tweedy beam, despite himself. To reward the good behaviour, he let the audience's roaring applause pull him back on stage for two encores—the first partly with the accompaniment of Feist for a duet of "You and I," and the second completely impromptu at the side of the stage without a mic. 

The truth is that a dissertation could be written on the merits of Tweedy's performance, but what really came of that night is difficult to explain without dragging you back through time and welcoming you to sit next to me in that dark theatre. If you had been there, you would have felt the performance pull you in tight; with your eyes closed, the whole set would have become one long scene of melancholic revelation in a beautiful indie film. It was a performance that shouldn't have been missed.

Info: Wilco
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