Tweedy, the name of Jeff Tweedy’s newest project which is a partnership with his 18-year-old son Spencer, the band’s drummer, made a stop at Milwaukee’s Pabst Theater on June 16 for a show dominated by never-before heard material.
Jeff’s music career began with the alt-country group Uncle Tupelo in the 90s, which hit big with their masterpiece album, No Depression. In the years following, bandleaders Jeff and Jay Farrar split over creative differences. Jeff took many original Tupelo band members with him to form Wilco.
With eight studio albums, one live album, five singles and a three volume collection of Woody Guthrie covers performed with Billy Bragg, Wilco started off small, but they soon grew to become one of the most well known and loved names in alternative rock.
The band became known for their high-energy live performances, and Jeff for his frequent witty comments and comedic banter with crowds. With Wilco currently on hiatus, Jeff took the time to put together a four-piece band and announced a new album, Sukierae, his nickname for his wife, Sue Miller, under the name “Tweedy.”
The show opened with The Handsome Family, a somewhat alternative country group with grim, yet fascinating lyrics, and long time opener for both Wilco and Jeff’s solo shows. The band is best known for “Far From Any Road,” the theme song of popular show True Detective.
After a short break, Tweedy came on stage and jumped right into the first half of the set, playing through 13 of Sukierae’s 20 total songs, beginning with “Down From Above,” one of the slower tracks from the album, which picks up near the end. Pausing only for the audience to give a quick round of applause, the band continued into “Diamond Light,” a seven-minute experimental rock song heavily featuring Spencer on drums.
Tweedy continued playing through the new material, balancing out more exciting tracks like “Flowering,” “Summer Noon,” “World Away,” “High As Hello” and “Fake Fur Coat” with the album’s slower selections, including “Desert Bell,” “Honey Combed” and “Where My Love.”
Jeff introduced the last song of the first half of the show by joking with the audience. “With the Internet the way it is today, you’ve probably heard it already, so there’s not much point in us playing it. I should really just stand here and play you YouTube clips of us playing this song.”
Following a couple minutes of back and forth with the audience and lots of laughter, Jeff began introducing the band, which was received by booming applause, to which he teased, “Easy! We’ve got a lot of shows to do. We don’t want to peak tonight. This is a warm up gig, you guys.”
The band then launched into “Slow Love,” a not-so-slow song featuring audience participation during the chorus, a frequent occurrence at Wilco shows and a nice transition to Jeff’s part of the show.
The rest of the band left the stage and Jeff’s solo set began: Wilco and Tupelo hits played only by the man and his guitar, the first being with “Via Chicago.” In contrast to the first half of the show, the audience was familiar with all of the songs, and was able to sing along.
Jeff whipped through his set, pleasing the crowd with well known favorites like “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart,” Tupelo’s “New Madrid,” “Jesus, etc.” and “Born Alone,” and closed his set with popular Golden Smog crowd-pleaser “Pecan Pie” for his wife, who is currently battling lymphoma. “I’d like to dedicate this song to my unbelievably brave and courageous and gorgeous wife … I aspire to be as cool as her. And … because this is the only song of mine that she knew the name of.”
Jeff brought the band back out to play “Wait For Love” and a rocking “Low Key,” which turned out to be significantly less low key than the name suggests.
Tweedy kept the rock and roll vibe going with an amped up version of Uncle Tupelo’s “Give Back the Key to My Heart,” and rounded out a perfect set spanning the entirety of Jeff’s music career with an intimate, unplugged performance of “Misunderstood.”
It is rare for a performer to be able to play such a large amount of unknown material and still keep a crowd as engaged and intent on listening as Jeff has done in his newest project.
Sukierae is out September 23, with eight tracks available for download immediately after pre-ordering the album through wilcoworld.net.
by Eli Frank