Concert Reviews

Jeff Tweedy Was Incredible Sunday Night — No Asterisk Needed

Jeff Tweedy performed at the Majestic Theatre on Sunday night.
Jeff Tweedy performed at the Majestic Theatre on Sunday night. Whitten Sabbatini
If over the next few days anyone who sat inside the Majestic Theatre on Sunday night comes up to you and starts raving about the Jeff Tweedy concert — well, just bear this in mind.

“I’ve been telling everyone at these shows — it might be the greatest show, but there’s an asterisk,” the singer-songwriter cracked not long into his 100-minute set. “‘Sure, it was a great show, but he was on performance-enhancing drugs.’”

He was joking but only just: Tweedy copped to being on steroids to help treat a rash, but if the drugs impeded his craft in any way, it was far from obvious.

Instead, the Wilco frontman, armed with nothing more than an acoustic guitar and a harmonica, treated a jam-packed and (mostly) respectful room to a selection of songs drawn from his latest effort, the solo LP Warm, as well as plenty of Wilco and Uncle Tupelo cuts.

Sunday’s truly solo performance — the 51-year-old rocker’s last “solo” date at the same venue five years ago featured a quartet of musicians behind him, including his son Spencer — was a near-perfect fusion of artist and venue. (Wilco has been through DFW more recently, playing, as it was known in 2017, the Irving Music Factory.)

The Majestic Theatre was worshipful in its silence, although, as the night wore on and the alcohol suffused some bloodstreams, the reverent stillness during Tweedy’s songs began to fray a bit.

Playfully fussy or genuinely annoyed — it was tough to discern where Tweedy’s dry humor gave way to actual frustration — Tweedy seemed to take it all in stride, whether it was griping about a photographer’s camera or chastising the audience for clapping along to “I’m Always in Love” during the encore.

“I feel like I squashed your fun,” Tweedy said, midsong. “You can clap along — I don’t care.”

“I feel like I squashed your fun. You can clap along — I don’t care.” – Jeff Tweedy

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It was an audience with a lot of love to give, intent on making sure the man behind some of the more indelible songs of the last two decades — “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart,” “Impossible Germany” or “Hummingbird,” to name a few of Sunday’s highlights — understood how much they adored him and his music.

Unsurprisingly, Tweedy’s latest material fits snugly into the catalog, full of vivid lyrics (“I break bricks / With my heart / But only a fool / Would call it art,” he sings in “Some Birds,” which feels as close to an artistic statement of purpose as Tweedy has yet articulated) and meticulous melodies, which glowed in Sunday’s austere presentation.

The set list ebbed and flowed, moving breezily between songs so fiercely loved they seemed to live in the marrow of those gathered around me in the darkness, and songs so new all that could be done is to absorb them and let them do their work.

As the night progressed, I also found myself reflecting upon George Saunders’ superb liner notes for Tweedy’s Warm, which appeared in the New Yorker last fall — and, yes, that sentence is something of a hipster Matryoshka doll.

Within Saunders’ prose, an observation stuck with me: “Jeff is our great, wry, American consolation poet. I don’t mean this abstractly: to see him play is to find yourself in a crowd of people being actively consoled — being moved, reassured, validated, made to feel like part of a dynamic aural friendship,” Saunders wrote.

And it was that sense of connection — everyone singing along to “California Stars,” as Tweedy, armed with his quicksilver tenor, took the harmony vocals, or hearing the pleased ripple of recognition as he launched into Uncle Tupelo’s “New Madrid” — that made it hard to leave the Majestic Theatre on Sunday night prepared to do much else beyond raving about the just-concluded performance to anyone who would listen — no asterisks necessary.
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Preston Jones is a Dallas-based writer who spent a decade as the pop music critic for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, where the Texas Associated Press Managing Editors honored his work three times, including a 2017 first place award for comment and criticism (Class AAAA). His writing has also appeared in the New York Observer, The Dallas Morning News, the Houston Chronicle, Central Track, Oklahoma Today and Slant Magazine.
Contact: Preston Jones