On Dec. 10, Jeff Tweedy of the bands Wilco and Uncle Tupelo presented his solo concert at the Mondavi Center with Scott McCaughey of the band The Young Fresh Fellows as his opener.
I’d like to inform you that I attended this concert knowing almost nothing about Tweedy’s music besides a few of his popular songs from Wilco. All I had at hand was my love for all genres of music and low expectations to avoid possible disappointment (I’m a bundle of sunshine).
I got there a few minutes into the show and found myself watching McCaughey in a furry silver top-hat and sunglasses sipping whiskey and trying not to spill on the piano. He comically stumbled around stage between his guitar, banjo and piano, singing about The Walking Dead comics and Babe Ruth. Though I couldn’t tell if he was comedian or a musician, I definitely enjoyed the oddity of it all.
The audience was mostly middle-aged to senior citizens hooting at McCaughey’s absurd gag reel of simplistic chords and arbitrary lyrics, but as soon as Tweedy took stage tons of young couples flooded the audience holding hands, cuddling and screaming cutesy requests at the headliner. Since I’m quite young and seemingly single, I felt out of place (mostly because the couple next to me kept kissing at different angles depending on the song that was playing).
Tweedy entered alone with his guitar, pulled out from the shadows with a single spotlight, and opened with a somber version of “Via Chicago” from Wilco’s 1999 album Summerteeth. I thought the song seemed weird as an opener because it was exceptionally low-energy.
As the concert progressed I realized he chose pretty low-key rep, though not necessarily lethargic. He did sprinkle in a few driving forces like Wilco’s “Heavy Metal Drummer,” and I took into account that the lack of a full band and minimal amplification created a toned-down atmosphere. Whether this was his intention or not, it worked well, keeping a cozy atmosphere while still engaging the audience.
Tweedy displayed mastery over his guitar, never over-indulging in his abilities, but offering a satisfying taste of what he knew. Paying tribute to Wilco several times, he soloed carefully past the musical complexities of what his band is generally known for to leave room for what felt like an intimate at-a-bar-in-the-middle-of-nowhere with your sweetheart setting (which may explain why I was surrounded by snuggly couples and tipsy fifty-somethings).
As much as I appreciated Tweedy’s guitar skill, I enjoyed his voice more. His tenor range was smooth and piercing during his ballads, but released a rawer, less-perfected sound when the beat picked up, making him emotionally accessible for the audience. He tossed in a few whistle interludes which seemed to charm the couples into trying to whistle along (needless to say it didn’t work out and they went back to snogging).
As I finally settled into the feel of things, a heckler pointed out that Tweedy had been suspiciously quiet in between songs. To this, Tweedy explained he didn’t feel like telling stories that night. This riled up the older audience causing them to pressure Tweedy until he told a story about his father, while the couples continued to scream out random song requests.
It was halfway through the show at this point and Tweedy looked slightly distressed, snapping back at heckling audience members and immediately apologizing for his snarkiness. He then began loosening up, cracking little jokes and occasionally dancing (quite poorly) in silence in an attempt to be “fun.” As things began to escalate from somewhat tense to downright strange, I gave up and started engaging with the weirdness, trying to ignore the couple next to me, who were now whispering scanty nothings to each other.
After watching a girl in the front row attempt to dance to the excessively slow song, “I’m the Man Who Loves You” and listening to multiple other audience members pick at Tweedy’s setlist, the show ended with a standing ovation and Tweedy came back for an encore that lasted as long as his show had. He tried to start a sing-and-echo with the audience, but instead went on a rant about how he wished he was cool enough to get the audience to echo him without planning it beforehand. He nonetheless exited to another standing ovation.
Despite being sandwiched in between young couples in heat and Davis’ thirsty hecklers (who knew this was Tweedy’s fan base?), I thoroughly enjoyed the show. Tweedy was able to last through a good two hours of rep without losing his vigor and his endearing (humorously awkward) personality. I can’t wait to see what his concert is like when I’m thirty years older and have taken to whiskey.