Jeff Tweedy plays to living-room drunks and other holiday mixes
Tweedy, etc.: When Wilco played the Mondavi Center in February 2012, the gig sold out. When Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy returned to Davis on December 10, about 500 of the venue’s 1,800 seats remained empty. No big. All the better to give Tweedy’s solo show an intimate, living-room feel. That is, of course, if your living room is populated with dancing girls and drunken guys who sing and clap obnoxiously out of sync with the rest of the crowd.
The Chicago-based singer-songwriter opened the night with “Via Chicago,” from Wilco’s 1999 album Summerteeth, and sang it, as he often does, as a mournful lament of sorts. The drama was undercut a bit, however, by a tipsy fanboy who wanted to belt out the title refrain at least two beats behind the performer that the rest of us paid handsomely to see. It’s cool, though, we’re all friends at a Tweedy show, right? Right. Certainly Tweedy’s the guy you want as a friend. Or at least a really good frenemy.
But more on that later.
Tweedy loaded his set chock-full of Wilco hits, a few Uncle Tupelo gems and a handful of covers, including his rendition of the song he wrote for Mavis Staples, “You Are Not Alone” and the Handsome Family’s “So Much Wine.”
Highlights included the woeful “Forget the Flowers” from Wilco’s 1996 sophomore double album Being There, and “I am Trying to Break Your Heart,” and “Jesus, Etc.” (both from the 2002 album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot). The last song, in particular, stands as one of Wilco’s best, a promise of steadfast love rendered stark and haunting by Tweedy’s voice with its perfectly imperfect booze and cigarette-cured tone that cracks and rasps in all the right places.
Which just made it all the better that the guy next to me decided to sing along in his own own crackling salt lick of a voice. Out of sync, even. Genius.
But this is where Tweedy the frenemy makes life just a bit more bearable. The musician does not suffer the drunken idiot gladly. Although he started the night on the quiet side—just a quick “hello” and a “thank you” here and there—Tweedy’s congenial sarcasm was let out to play after a bit of audience encouragement.
“Tell us some stories!” one person yelled out hopefully.
“No,” Tweedy replied sternly. And then: “I don’t know any stories.”
Perhaps not, but he knows people and behavior and quirky habits and tragic tendencies—he’s made a living cataloging them in song, after all.
And so it was on: Be it the lone dancing twirler, the off-key singer, or the girl who claimed she knew his dad, Tweedy spared no self-mocking one-liner or gently spiked audience jab. All in good fun, you guys, all in good fun—and by the end of the night when Tweedy took to the edge of the stage armed only with an acoustic guitar, it was OK when he commanded everyone to shut up and stop clapping already.
“If you clap, they can’t hear you,” Tweedy reproached those in the front row as he gestured toward the seats into the great beyond. Everyone in the auditorium obliged as Tweedy launched into a stunning rendition of Uncle Tupelo’s “Acuff-Rose,” singing: “Early in the morning, sometimes late at night / Sometimes I get the feeling that everything’s all right.” Indeed.
The reason for the season: Listen, I realize I’m a rare, annoying breed: The type who unequivocally, unabashedly, unironically and wholeheartedly loves holiday music. Whether it’s the traditional ilk of all those “Winter Wonderland” or “White Christmas,” or the seedier aspects of “Fairytale of New York” or “Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis,” I start playing holiday mixes the day after Thanksgiving and don’t tire of all those fa la la la las and ho ho hos until December 31. Perhaps this signals a need for serious psychological intervention. Whatever, the point is there are a handful of worthy holiday-themed shows on deck this season—and, thankfully, not a Tran-Siberian Orchestra in the bunch. On Thursday, December 19, check out Old Ironsides’ (1901 10th Street) Holiday Music Night! It’s billed as an open jam of sorts, so expect lots of improv and merry hilarity. It starts at 7:30 p.m. and there is no cover. Tip: The bartenders here know how to serve up a mean hot toddy. Just sayin’. Or how about A Very Heckarap XXXmas. This takes place on Monday, December 23, at The Press Club (2030 P Street). There is also no cover at this event, and it starts at 10 p.m. and features what will likely be some epically fun deejay battles between the likes of MC Ham, DJ Gourmet and Nic Offer from Chk Chk Chk (!!!). Order another round of cheer, and have yourself a very merry whatever. Peace out.