At the end of the song "Sunken Treasure" early into Jeff Tweedy's stellar solo acoustic performance at the Granada Theatre on Friday night, he sang about his life's calling: "Music is my savior / I was maimed by rock and roll / I was maimed by rock and roll / I was tamed by rock and roll / I got my name from rock and roll." Before the last line, he quieted the crowd for added emphasis.
Tweedy has certainly made a name for himself during the last 25 or so years that he has been playing music professionally, starting with the alt country pioneers Uncle Tupelo and continuing with his critically and popularly acclaimed band Wilco (which played at the Arlington Theater last year).
He has also been "maimed" along the way, from falling out with several bandmates, his record label refusing to release his music and his substance abuse struggles. It is to his credit that he has consistently written and recorded outstanding music throughout it all.
His first song of the evening, "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart," came from Wilco's 2002 breakthrough album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, which was rejected by their record label, but after the band released the album for free online it was released by another label (ironically a different subsidiary of their old label). Stripped of its recorded electronic touches, one was better able to appreciate the brilliance of the songwriting itself.
Tweedy continued with songs from his whole career, from Uncle Tupelo ("New Madrid," "Wait Up" with the great line, "Honey, please wait up for me / I miss you more than I need sleep"), to early Wilco (the aforementioned "Sunken Treasure" and a personal favorite, "Passenger Side," with the line "You're gonna make me spill my beer / If you don't learn how to steer"), to more from Yankee Hotel Foxtrot ("Kamera," "Jesus, Etc." and the show-closing "I'm the Man Who Loves You"), to obscure Wilco ("Cars Can't Escape," "Blasting Fonda"), to new Wilco ("Dawned On Me," "Born Alone" and "Bull Black Nova" with haunting guitar from Tweedy), to music from his side project Loose Fur ("The Ruling Class," "Chinese Apple" and "Laminated Cat" with some particularly intense guitar).
Tweedy also played a few tracks from the Mermaid Avenue project in which Wilco and Billy Bragg set previously unheard lyrics from Woody Guthrie to music, including "Remember the Mountain Bed" with some particularly exquisite guitar from Tweedy (whose under-appreciated guitar playing was in fine form all night long), and "California Stars," for which Tweedy was joined by Wilco's Mikael Jorgensen on piano and Scott McCaughey on guitar and backing vocals.
Tweedy was pleasantly prickly throughout the evening, early on asking the audience to "find the person who can't clap in time" and "politely ask them to tie their hands together." The audience's penchant for clapping during the songs continued to bother him, to the point of him cursing into the audience in the middle of one song. He later jokingly apologized for his behavior when he dedicated the song "Hummingbird" to little girl in the audience named Haley.
Before Tweedy took the stage, McCaughey played a humor-filled opening set that drew heavily from an upcoming release by The Minus 5, with a highlight being the Elton John-style zombie song with lyrics like "Kill, kill the dead" and "smash their heads." Also notable was the amusing "Aw S*** Man," a cover of Randy Newman's "Living Without You" with Jorgensen on piano, and, from the Minus 5 album Down With Wilco, "Dear Employer (The Reason I Quit)" and "The Days of Wine and Booze."
Setlist (Wilco songs unless otherwise specified)
I Am Trying to Break Your Heart
New Madrid (Uncle Tupelo song)
Remember the Mountain Bed (lyrics by Woody Guthrie)
Cars Can't Escape
Wait Up (Uncle Tupelo song)
The Ruling Class (Loose Fur song)
Chinese Apple (Loose Fur song)
Bull Black Nova
Dawned On Me
Please Tell My Brother (Golden Smog song)
Laminated Cat (Loose Fur song)
A Shot in the Arm
Another Man's Done Gone (lyrics by Woody Guthrie)
California Stars (lyrics by Woody Guthrie)
I'm the Man Who Loves You
— Jeff Moehlis is a Noozhawk contributing writer and a professor of mechanical engineering at UC Santa Barbara. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his web site, music-illuminati.com. The opinions expressed are his own.