BY MAX JANAIRO —
Jeff Tweedy, the contemporary folk-rock icon, performed at his annual benefit for education at The Vic Theater in Chicago on May 14.
For years, Tweedy has led the much beloved and critically acclaimed band, Wilco, writing a majority of their songs and creating an eclectic discography with roots ranging from country to noise rock. Every year in early May, Tweedy holds a special concert in Chicago whose profits go to scholarships for Chicago students.
The entire night seemed to be all about the fans, from the fact that the tickets cost slightly more than usual (a tactic to both raise more money and separate the casual Wilco fans from the diehards), to Tweedy’s choice to allow the set list to be chosen by the first 30 people in line at the door.
This spontaneity in song selection gave the show variety, featuring both classic Wilco songs such as “Misunderstood” and “I’m Always In Love,” as well as several covers ranging from Bob Dylan’s soaring epic of destiny, “Simple Twist of Fate” to the late David Bowie’s incomparable take on outer space, “Space Oddity.”
Though Tweedy managed to pull a beautiful and nuanced show out of the suggestions, he was quite vocal of his disappointment in the fan’s choices, joking, “[The fans] want to hear a lot of 12-minute songs in a row that are very sad … which probably won’t be any good … But I think I pulled a decent show out of a pile of crap.”
This playful banter continued throughout the show, cementing Tweedy’s place as one of the quickest witted and genuine performers in music.
During lulls in the show when switching to new songs, Tweedy would often answer questions that were submitted by audience members, often with uproarious stories and honest monologues. These brief vignettes endeared Tweedy to the crowd, creating a friendly and laid back atmosphere, prompting Tweedy to say, “You guys are cooler than I thought you’d be. I mean, a Saturday night crowd with an open bar can be a little crazy, especially for a guy with an acoustic guitar.”
But the fact that Tweedy was armed only with his light acoustic strumming and his raspy, emotive voice did not detract at all from the mood of the show. His subtly beautiful interpretation of each song left the crowd in a constant state of awe, something difficult for other performers.
The audience was a respectful group, apart from a few drunken outbursts (which Tweedy responded to with loving sarcasm), but they still maintained enthusiasm.
Generally, a sense of admiration and love emanated from the room to the stage as the night progressed, culminating in an all out explosion of warmth when Tweedy was joined onstage by his two sons, Spencer and Sammy. The former joined his father on the drums in 2014 to form the band “Tweedy,” and released the acclaimed album Sukierae. The two toured extensively, which formed an onstage bond that could easily be seen as soon as Spencer walked out during the benefit.
The real surprise of the night was hearing the angelic voice of Sammy Tweedy, who sang a cover of Big Star’s song of adolescent longing “Thirteen.” A collective gasp came over the crowd as soon as the first few haunting notes came from Sammy’s mouth, prompting cell phones to be drawn from pockets like swords from their sheaths in desperate attempts to capture the voice of the next generation of the Tweedy family.
This appearance of Sammy and Spencer was the finishing touch to a show that brought the sense of community amongst fans of Jeff Tweedy to new heights.
Throughout the benefit, Tweedy built an atmosphere of camaraderie that made him feel like a close friend; but by the end, the audience had been fully roped into one big family.