|All photos by Jason Gonulsen|
You were right about the stars
Each one is a setting sun
I was married once, and yesterday would have marked nine years.
For me, divorce hasn't made June 17th disappear. And I'll be clear: I don't live my life pretending things didn't happen. They did. When I got news of this tour -- that Jeff Tweedy would be touring with a band not named Wilco, and that his son, Spencer, would be on drums -- my eyes were more drawn to "June 17th, Columbia, Missouri." Seeing the date in any context still holds weight, even if I honestly do not long for my past.
Music is deep romance. To this day it's impossible for me to hear Jeff Tweedy's voice without thinking of faces that have slipped out of my life and moments that will stubbornly remain with me forever. I don't want them back; I want new ones -- better ones. Or maybe fresher ones. It's uncanny how Jeff Tweedy's music has connected so many of my memories, ones that my brain can find in seconds.
And last night I got what I wanted.
Everything -- the old and new -- was fresh, and for different reasons. I'll get to the old in minute, but for now, let's talk about Sukierae (sue-key-ray), which will be released on September 16th under the name "Tweedy." This is dark, deep, serious music that could also be accused of being plodding (I'm quite certain that it will be described as such).
I'll stay away from that term, because there is definite magic here. These songs were meant to be performed together, something Neil Young would do live, and something Tweedy and his band -- son Spencer on drums, Jim Elkington on guitar, Darin Gray on bass, and Liam Cunningham on keyboards -- did: they devoted the night's first 13 songs to the new material.
The three songs I remember most -- after hearing them for the first time -- were "New Moon," "Summer Noon," and "Nobody Dies Anymore." The latter was the best because it somehow reminded me of Wilco's "One Sunday Morning," not musically, but in feeling. And I go by feel. "Some things still change, but nobody dies," Tweedy sang. Immediately I thought: my kind of lyric. Classic, classic Tweedy here, and I wouldn't lie to you.
I'm a big believer that we do not choose what kind of music affects us, it just does. You can't fake chills, and you can't stop them from happening. You can't stop from feeling them, either. I was reminded of this again when Jeff Tweedy began the latter half of the show by himself, solo acoustic, with Summerteeth's "Via Chicago."
To say this song has been important in my life is a huge understatement. It's confusing -- part horror, part dream, part...wait, what is he talking about? There is no reason why this song should make sense, and perhaps it doesn't. But there is also no way that Jeff Tweedy should be so special and convincing as a solo performer. There's a reason why many musicians shy away from performing their songs this way -- because it's so easy to lose a crowd, so easy to get flooded with requests, which Tweedy did.
"Skynyrd," someone shouted.
"Thanks for keeping the streak alive," Tweedy responded.
"Free Bird" someone else screamed.
"Sorry, he beat you to it," Tweedy said. "He went at it from a different angle."
If there is ever a book written about how to deal with audience requests, please let this exchange be included.
But back to "Via Chicago." I like music that is vulnerable, but it needs to be performed as such to reach its full potential. Jeff Tweedy knows this, which is why he is a master solo performer: effective because he takes his time, delivering every detail.
If you've ever heard this song performed with Wilco, you know that it's broken and then explodes -- that's the beauty of drummer Glenn Kotche. Without Kotche, Tweedy doesn't throw any of that away -- strumming his guitar at a fractured pace, leading him to the lines that draw you back in:
Where the cups are cracked and hooked
Above the sink
They make me think
Crumbling ladder tears don't fall
They shine down your shoulders
This is how he does it -- giving you a little bit at a time, never in a hurry. Even Uncle Tupelo's "Gun" sounds as powerful as it did with a full band -- the opening guitar clatter like thunder, which includes a false start. Tweedy starts over, gets it right, delivers: "It's unloaded now, so don't bother." Boom. We have a winner.
The main set ends with "Jesus Etc.," a song just as powerful as "Via Chicago," but for different reasons. This one's about love, and it tugs at the heart with lines about stars being setting suns. (And really, is there a better Tweedy line than that?).
I would tell you it was the best moment, but it was not.
The second encore of "Misunderstood," performed at the very edge of the stage with no amplification was, hands down, the best moment of live music I have witnessed this year. Talk about being vulnerable. Jeff Tweedy allowed us to be with him. We sang along, first the verses:
Short on long term goals
There's a party there that we ought to go to
If you still love rock and roll
You still love rock and roll?
It's only a quarter to three
Reflecting off of your CD
You're looking at a picture of me
You're staring at a picture of me
And then came the "Nothings," which is how the song ends. "I'd like to thank you all for nothing at all" is not the way you should close a normal show, except it is the exact way to close a Jeff Tweedy show.
The "Nothings" went on for a good minute, until the man who wrote the song motioned for us to stop.
Song over. Show over. Jeff Tweedy was gone.
Like "Misunderstood" told me long ago: There was a party here that I had ought to go to, so I did.
I'll never forget it.
01 - Down From Above
02 - Diamond Light
03 - High As Hello
04 - Desert Bell
05 - Flowering
06 - Honey Combed
07 - World Away
08 - New Moon
09 - Summer Noon
10 - Where My Love
11 - Fake Fur Coat
12 - Slow Love
13 - Nobody Dies Anymore
14 - Via Chicago
15 - New Madrid [Uncle Tupelo]
16 - I Am Trying to Break Your Heart
17 - Radio King (Golden Smog)
18 - Laminated Cat (aka Not For The Season)
19 - Passenger Side
20 - The Ruling Class (Loose Fur)
21 - Should've Been in Love
22 - Gun (Uncle Tupelo)
23 - Born Alone
24 - Jesus, Etc.
25 - Wait For Love
26 - California Stars
27 - Misunderstood