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Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Jeff Tweedy @ The Pabst Theater

June 16, 2014

jeff tweedy solo 2014 tour spencer drums
Photo credit: CJ Foeckler
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As the frontman and major songwriter for the nearly universally acclaimed alt-country institution Wilco, Jeff Tweedy has little cause for concern should the band, which is currently on an extended break following 2011’s The Whole Love, ever call it quits completely. Wilco’s notoriously loyal fans will follow him almost anywhere, as evidenced by several successful solo acoustic tours over the years, so while breaking away from an established act can be a daunting prospect for any number of respected lead singers, Tweedy can form a new backing band (including his son Spencer on drums) and announce a new album, the upcoming Sukierae, safe in the knowledge that it will most likely not only sell, but sell well. It’s got to be nice to have that kind of encouraging support, but as Tweedy discovered Monday night at the Pabst Theater, there’s such a thing as an audience being a bit too passionate.

After Tweedy wordlessly took the stage, the first half of the show covered most of his new material which, unsurprisingly, sounds a whole lot like Wilco, blending world-weary Americana and jangly pop with the kind of tuneful, subdued psychedelia the band has never gotten enough credit for. The new group, including his young son, who plays remarkably well for having just graduated high school and played a big part in crafting Sukierae, was in fine form, but the excitement level definitely rose when they exited the stage, leaving Tweedy on his own for about 45 minutes of acoustic Wilco songs, from obvious choices, like “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart,” to offbeat picks, like a truncated version of "Spiders (Kidsmoke)" from 2004’s A Ghost is Born, wrapping up the segment by dedicating “Pecan Pie” to his wife, who has been battling lymphoma and was watching from the front row.

With Wilco or without, Tweedy is a distant performer, preferring to let the music do most of the talking, meaning some brief silences between songs, which the rambunctious audience decided to fill by yelling random and pointless things, from “Hi Jeff!” to “Happy Father’s Day!,” for no apparent reason. Eventually Tweedy had to respond, self-deprecatingly wondering aloud whether fans scream things like “Good job!” at Neil Young, but instead of cooling the chatter it had the opposite effect, encouraging the loudmouths to continue shouting asinine nonsense that wasn’t funny in the first place and only got more irksome with repetition. You could tell Tweedy was a little put out by the endless distractions, but he handled the whole situation with humor and grace, calling them a “strange and bold” crowd as he brought the band back on for a short encore. Well, that’s the nice way to put it anyway.