Jeff Tweedy With the Handsome Family Majestic Theatre Sunday, June 22, 2014
By the time Jeff Tweedy and his four-piece backing band left the stage Sunday night, it was like he had played two shows in one night. Devoting the first half of a 28-song set to his forthcoming solo album, Sukierae, Tweedy gave the mostly-full Majestic plenty to digest. And oddly, it felt like he could have played for at least another half hour and the crowd wouldn't have minded.
For a long time now, Tweedy has had the luxury of playing almost anything from his catalog (be it with Uncle Tupelo, Wilco or Loose Fur) at his solo shows and still being met with a wildly receptive audience. But coming out of the gate with 14 new songs most of the audience didn't know was a rather bold move. Thankfully, it helped that these new songs were in the vein of what Tweedy has done for years, from Yankee Hotel Foxtrot onward.
One couldn't help notice how effective Tweedy's 18-year-old son Spencer was behind the drum kit. He grasped the open space of the songs like Levon Helm did on so many classic tunes with the Band, yet he had strong, jazzy wrists like John McEntire of Tortoise. Songs like "Down From Above" and "Flowering" recalled the untangled avant folk of Loose Fur while many other songs like "Summer Noon," "Honey Combed" and "World Away" were short, peppy and to the point.
Tweedy's banter with the audience went over quite well, even though he was very mum at the beginning. Quipping that the people up in the front were staying up past their bedtime for this show, he led into "Low Key." Before the next tune, "Slow Love," Tweedy encouraged the crowd to sing along with its intro and outro prefacing that this was a song the crowd had never heard before.
Introducing the band as they exited the stage after "Nobody Dies Anymore," Tweedy charged through a bunch of chestnuts from his back catalog, armed only with an acoustic guitar. Illuminated by bright lights below his feet and red ones along opposite ends of the stage, he was unrelenting. He played familiar Wilco tunes like "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart," "Born Alone" and "Passenger Side" mixed with Golden Smog, Loose Fur and Uncle Tupelo tracks.
Bringing the band back out for an encore, Tweedy had a surprise for the on-their-feet audience: "You Are Not Alone," a song he recorded with Mavis Staples, yet he had never played it live with his band before. Following that with a cover of Doug Sahm's "Give Me Back the Key to My Heart" and the Billy Bragg and Wilco collaboration "California Stars," it was like the two hours flew by.
Though he didn't have the joyous bombast of Wilco behind him this night, the set showcased how talented a songwriter Tweedy is. Even when reduced to an acoustic guitar, the songs breathe with life and vitality. Writing tunes that strong is not that easy, but Tweedy is such a veteran that a show like that was an easy walk around the park.
Personal bias: I'm a big Wilco fan, but I had some hesitation about seeing a solo Jeff Tweedy show. Seeing what I've seen in I Am Trying to Break Your Heart and Sunken Treasure, I could really do without hearing drunk people yelling for Uncle Tupelo songs, non-sequiturs and "Free Bird" at a quiet acoustic show. Luckily, there was very little of that this time. What Tweedy did joke about was funny and enjoyable.
Side note: The Handsome Family opened with a 40-minute set. The trio played "Far From Any Road," which was recently used on the opening credits of True Detective. Husband and wife Brett and Rennie Sparks played off of each other introducing every song, talking about a hole in their backyard, Santa Claus, vikings, and onion rings.
Set List: "Down From Above" "Diamond Light" "Flowering" "Hazel" "Summer Noon" "Honey Combed" "Desert Bell" "World Away" "New Moon" "Fake Fur Coat" "High As Hello" "Low Key" "Slow Love" "Nobody Dies Anymore" "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart" "New Madrid" "Someday Some Morning Sometime" "Laminated Cat" (aka, "Not For the Season") "How to Fight Loneliness" "Passenger Side" "The Ruling Class" "Born Alone" "Please Tell My Brother" "Jesus, Etc." "I'm the Man Who Loves You" "You Are Not Alone" "Give Back the Key to My Heart" "California Stars"