Friday, May 20, 2011

Review: Jeff Tweedy - Orpheum Theatre, Phoenix AZ


By Jon Stone | @jwstone

Christmas in Arizona is already pretty sweet. The highs here in Tucson have been around 60 all week and with all the snow and storminess hitting the Midwest, the discomfort of the three-day drive (with kids) from Champaign was nearly, if not completely, forgotten. Last night, all remaining trip-fatigue faded. You see, Jeff Tweedy vacations in Arizona too. Last night my wife and I made the short drive from Tucson to Phoenix to see him play a solo set at the beautiful and historic Orpheum Theatre. Talk about sweet. His sister lives in the Phoenix valley and Tweedy joked that the show was planned to finance their trip out to visit for Christmas, "then I saw her guest list . . . it's not going to cover it."

This is my third time getting to see Jeff Tweedy this year. I saw him play a similar solo set in Champaign at the end of January and then in Chicago with Wilco in October. And while seeing the full band is surely an experience to have and then repeat as often as possible, there is something unmistakably special about seeing a Jeff Tweedy solo show. You might expect the guy to kind of drown up there on stage all by himself playing ensemble songs like "Impossible Germany" and "Spiders (Kidsmoke)." But, instead, the songs take on new life as acoustic arrangements and are arguably (as is the case with "Spiders") more smooth and palatable than the original (even when he forgets the words, like he did last night). So there's that. But Jeff Tweedy is also hilarious. He is engaging, self-deprecating, and confident -- attributes which, as a foil to his songs about heartbreak and loss, come across as the best kind of charisma.


As I found out in January, Tweedy takes advantage of solo shows by dusting off obscure/ side-project tunes and revitalizing them. Last night we heard a favorite of mine, the b-side "Bob Dylan's 49th Beard," as well as the Woody Guthrie/Wilco/Billy Bragg tune "Remember the Mountain Bed" from Mermaid Avenue pt. II and Golden Smog's "The Ruling Class" (complete with the promise that it is not blasphemous--he's played it at plenty of Christian colleges . . . and is then asked never to come back), among others.
But there were several other highlights:
  • "Muzzle of Bees" sounds so great in this context and, from a quick look back at the year's Wilco shows, it doesn't get played that often anymore. It's my favorite Wilco song and (likely) the reason I first stumbled on this blog.
  • Like the full-band show in October, Tweedy led the audience in a singalong of "Jesus, Etc." Though, unlike the Wilco show, this time it was much more hushed--the audience only singing at a whisper--which made the song all the more affecting.
  • We got a cover of the Handsome Family's realist-Christmas tune "So Much Wine." Jeff called it a favorite and hoped that he would be able to remember the words. If memory serves, he dedicated it (as well as "Please Tell My Brother") to his sister Debbie. I can't wait to start rummaging through their catalog now.
At both of the solo shows I attended this year, Tweedy ended the set by playing a few songs out in the front of the stage, off the PA system. I've never seen any other artist do this and it's amazing what a difference it makes. And even though Tweedy joked last night that this would be what things would be like when "all of the power gets used up," as soon as he stepped away from the mic, it was like he stepped into the audiences' collective living rooms.  Last night we sat in silence as he played "Someone Else's Song" and the Uncle Tupelo classic "Acuff-Rose."  I love both of those tunes for their man-behind-the-curtain effect: they reveal Jeff Tweedy's immense back-history of musical influence. You can't hear either and not want to brush off some Bill Monroe or Haggard.  In other words, I don't think it's a coincidence that Flatt and Scruggs' "Salty Dog Blues" was playing on the speakers before Tweedy ever stepped on stage.


setlist: Sunken Treasure / Remember the Mountain Bed / Please Tell My Brother / Hummingbird / Country Disappeared / The Ruling Class / I Am Trying To Break Your Heart / Bob Dylan's 49th Beard / You and I / Muzzle of Bees / How To Fight Loneliness / Impossible Germany / In a Future Age / Passenger Side / So Much Wine (Handsome Family cover) / Spiders (Kidsmoke) / Shot in the Arm
encore: Heavy Metal Drummer / Jesus, Etc. / I'm the Man Who Loves You / Someone Else's Song / Acuff-Rose

No comments:

Post a Comment