Words by Rick Levin • Photos by Todd Cooper
No doubt Jeff Tweedy is one of the finest songwriters of his generation, but what really puts him over the top as an artist is that voice — by turns raw, scorched and honey-sweet, Tweedy’s singing is capable of evoking moments of passion in all their complexity, walking a tightrope between sincerity and irony, vulnerability and rage. And that voice was on full display Sunday, March 15, when — with his latest outfit named, suitably enough, Tweedy — the Wilco front man performed an intimate set of new and old stuff for a rapt audience at The Shedd.
Backed by a band that included some longtime friends as well as his son, Spencer, on drums, Tweedy commenced his set with a cycle of songs drawn from the new band’s 2014 debut, Sukierae, which includes squelchy, anthemic hard rockers (“Please Don’t Let Me Be So Understood”) as well as a handful of pop gems (“Summer Noon”) and the sort of gutsy, waltz-driven folk (“Nobody Dies Anymore”) that’s become the man’s trademark.
As tight and engaging as the band was, it was Tweedy’s warm, humorous banter between numbers that drew in the crowd. Typically focused and taciturn, Tweedy on this night engaged the crowd with wry, lighthearted jabs about Eugene’s “stoner” status as well as relating the story of his brother’s aborted career at the University of Oregon in the ‘70s.
But, in the end, it was the music that mattered most, as Tweedy and crew wove a rich, moving tapestry of a sound into the rapt atmosphere of The Shedd’s Jacqua Hall. In between rollicking sets by the band, Tweedy took center stage, alone under a single spotlight, and played a series of songs that reached back into his substantial catalogue, including stark, moving renditions of “Jesus, etc.” and “You and I,” as well as a stunning rendition of “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart” and the old Wilco classic “Passenger Side.”
Opening for Tweedy was The Minus 5, an all-star band founded by Scott McCaughey (Young Fresh Fellows, R.E.M.) and including among its current members R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck. Supporting their latest album, Dungeon Golds, the Minus 5 ripped through a set of smart garage rock that was the perfect appetizer.
Audio from the performance can be downloaded at Seen & Heard
THE MINUS 5