An Amazing Acoustic Night with Jeff Tweedy
I'll cut right to the chase: Jeff Tweedy's show Thursday night at Higher Ground was a masterpiece. The lead singer of Wilco (and Loose Fur and Uncle Tupelo) treated Vermont to a rare solo acoustic show that's been sold out for six weeks.
After a short but solid opening set of jazzy pop-rock by Pronto, a Brooklyn band led by Wilco keyboardist Mikael Jorgensen, Tweedy took the stage and went into "Via Chicago," a Wilco favorite from the album Summerteeth. The rest of the night similarly highlighted Tweedy's back catalogue, as he pulled most of the set from 1990s Wilco albums and his previous band, Uncle Tupelo. He did treat the audience to two brand new songs as previews of the upcoming Wilco album, due in June. (And if any snooty hipsters are wondering, no, they don't sound "dad-rock," thanks.)
Tweedy was in a great mood all night, engaging in plenty of funny and good-natured banter with the crowd, including his story of how earlier in the day he was nearly run off the road by overzealous fans while riding his bike around town, saying he "felt like Princess Di." More musicians should go for black comedy. He also entertained a few impromptu audience requests, and threw in some unexpected covers of Bob Dylan's "Simple Twist of Fate" and, more surprisingly, The Stooges' "I Wanna Be Your Dog."
My fanboy meter was overloaded during Tweedy's first encore, as he played my favorite Wilco songs together. "A Shot in the Arm" was even more desperate and affecting in acoustic form, while Tweedy transcribed the many parts and voices of "Muzzle of Bees" into a surprisingly complex, fascinating version.
He took another encore and returned with Jorgensen on keyboards to play a pair of songs from A Ghost is Born, "Hummingbird" and "Theologians," though it must be said that these songs were really sloppy. I'm glad they went for it, though. Tweedy capped off the night by playing Wilco's "Someone Else's Song" and Uncle Tupelo's "Acuff-Rose" totally unplugged, standing atop the stage monitors and belting out the words sans microphone. It was the most intimate, beautiful moment in a night full of them.
A major reason the show was so great was that the crowd was really fantastic. I've had quite a few experiences at Higher Ground where the crowd treats the venue as any Burlington dive bar, too busy drunkenly chatting to even pay attention to the show they paid to see. But the crowd at this show was amazingly attentive, staying eerily quiet at the right moments, saving the whoops and yells for between songs, and singing along fervently when the song merited it. I don't know if it was because the show was so hard to get tickets to that only the diehards were there, or if Wilco fans are just an amazingly cool bunch, but it made the show an absolute blast to be a part of, and created the sort of feeling of communal happiness that only a great rock show can provide.