"Africa is, indeed, coming into fashion." - Horace Walpole (1774)

11.21.2005

last week in live music: jeff tweedy

It's an incredible hassle and expense to get oneself to Kingston, New York (not to mention having to put up with upstate New Yorkers - oh, my). Somewhere after paying over $20 in tolls, remembering what it feels like to scrape ice off a car in 29 degree weather, and sitting in traffic in New Jersey for two hours, I asked myself, "Is this worth it?" I left the most important professional conference for my field two days early, meaning I missed a lot of important research and networking as well. But by the end of the night on Friday, it was so clear: sacrificing my professional future was absolutely worth it. Jeff Tweedy's solo show at the Ulster PAC was amazing. The view from the middle of the fifth row in an intimate venue was even better.

Let's start with the set list. We really lucked out; this was one of the best on the tour. Tweedy opened with "Sunken Treasure" and went right into "Remember the Mountain Bed" after that. There was a good variety of non-Wilco stuff as well. Tweedy commented that he'd been to the venue fifteen years before with Uncle Tupelo, told a funny story about that, and played a couple of UT songs ("Black Eye" and "New Madrid"), "Please Tell My Brother" from the Golden Smog stuff, and "He's Back Jack-Whistling Jesus," which is awesome (it's about Jesus coming back -- as a crack addict) and should be on the upcoming Loose Fur album. The set ended with a sing-along of "California Stars," except when Tweedy announced that he was going to sing the harmony part, everyone stopped singing to listen to that. It was so cool! Glenn Kotche joined Tweedy for the first encore, during which they played a lot of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot stuff. The final encore, though, was the best. Tweedy played "Someday Some Morning Sometime," "Passenger Side," and was about to launch into "Acuff-Rose" when the girl directly behind me started whining and begging him to play "Misunderstood." He actually did. We couldn't believe it. (Only 8 never's, though. It was hard without drums.) I was about to get really annoyed that she'd stopped him from playing "Acuff-Rose," but he closed with it. "Acuff-Rose" was always my favorite Uncle Tupelo song and I'd never heard it live.

But the music itself was what really made the evening. Jeff Tweedy was just alone on stage, surrounded by six guitars and lit with a spotlight. He couldn't see us and referred to the crowd as "the abyss" that yells things at him. Hearing all these songs completely stripped down was such an amazing experience. The reason I like Wilco so much is that the lyrics and the experimentation with the process of making music collide in a way that makes you say, "Yes. That's it. That's exactly how that is." Which ends up making me focus more on the lyrics than anything else. But the reason I liked Uncle Tupelo to begin with was that some amazing musicians were taking something old and making it completely new. And they could play! Friday's show was a reminder for me that Jeff Tweedy is not only an amazing lyricist, he's also a great guitar player. I couldn't have asked for a better evening.

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