The onstage persona of Jeff Tweedy is simultaneously absurd and ideal: he is eccentric, imperfect, occasionally sarcastic and always refreshingly human. When fans filed out of Foellinger Auditorium after his show last Friday, Oct. 27, the buzz was about Tweedy the performer, and not Tweedy the musician.
“I shouldn’t have punched that guy,” Tweedy said after a stirring version of Wilco’s “Sunken Treasure.” The soft-spoken singer then went on to offer a five-minute, personal account of the “fight” that occurred between him and a fan on Oct. 16 during a show in Springfield, MO.
After discussing the Springfield concert’s complete lack of security, and how an over-eager fan grabbed him from behind, Tweedy conceded that he “punches like a girl.” He then concluded the story by explaining that he is “quick like
a knife,” a simile so confusing that only he could make it seem articulate.
Over the past two decades, Tweedy – known best as the lead singer of alt-country band Wilco -has gained a reputation, whether deserved or not, as introverted and media-unfriendly; he has spent time in rehab for addiction to painkillers, and he has never looked like he belongs on MTV or the cover of Rolling Stone. But, after spending an hour and a half in his presence, it becomes apparent that the 39-year-old singer is not the withdrawn person he’s been perceived to be.
The actual set played by Tweedy was surprisingly simple. He was never joined onstage by another musician (despite being in the presence of two Wilco members) and, with the exception of a brief harmonica flourish, the only instrument Tweedy picked up was an acoustic guitar.
The Wilco frontman split his set between solo material and Wilco songs, opening with “Spiders (Kidsmoke),” a track from Wilco’s fifth record, A Ghost is Born, and closing with his solo track “Is That the Thanks I Get.”
Highlights of the concert included Tweedy’s acoustic version of the Wilco song “Theologians,” during which he flaunted his rarely-heard falsetto, and a unique rendition of “I am Trying to Break Your Heart,” where Tweedy finger-picked the song’s piano solo on guitar.
Despite borrowing heavily from the Wilco catalogue, Tweedy’s emergence as a legitimate solo artist seems imminent. His show at Foellinger took place just three days after he released his first solo DVD.
The opening band, Autumn Defense, featured two other members of Wilco, John Stirratt and Pat Sansone. The band seemed to wander aimlessly through numerous musical genres (country, folk and jazz, to name a few), but established themselves as a worthwhile opening act through sheer musicianship. Sansone, in particular, played guitar, bass and piano, as well as harmonizing with Stirratt.