Jeff Tweedy embraces the hurdles at Berklee
By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK Editor
Going out to see music on a Friday night, for most, it’s a release. Like a movie, it’s an event designed to help people forget about whatever else is happening and watch a musician or a band do something that only they can do in quite their own way. If it’s good, it’s great; if it’s half-assed and pandering, the entire night can feel like a waste of money.
With Tweedy at the Berklee Performance Center in Boston, it was all the former. Jeff Tweedy, the band’s namesake, is in the midst of a tour exploring new spaces and sounds with Wilco off to the side temporarily, and through two hours of music he was entirely focused on the task at hand, even as intrusions crept into the performance.
With “Nobody Dies Anymore,” the band launched into a set almost entirely devoted to Sukierae, the new album Tweedy recorded almost entirely alone, save for his son Spencer on drums. The songs range from deeply personal reflections to louder sound experiments that recall his weirder, wilder turns in Loose Fur and the Wilco albums from early in the 2000s.
This band was assembled for this tour, keeping Spencer on drums and remaining flexible to move through the record’s many moods. Calling the band overly reserved wouldn’t be fair, but certainly, they played with deadly focus until Tweedy broke the ice with the customary “hellos” that mutated into a joke about changing son Spencer’s diapers earlier that afternoon and another about his son’s “very specific set of criteria” for his future wife, and then an immediate apology:
“I’m sorry, that’s the worst thing I’ve ever done to you. And that’s saying something.”
But that revealed Tweedy’s good mood despite having to fight a cold. Coupled with the sense of adventure in playing so many of these new songs, the band was playing incredibly tight and spirited through the Sukierae songs, including a couple of covers and a new song that Tweedy felt comfortable throwing into the set.
Tweedy’s acoustic set saw him even looser, delicately reinterpreting Wilco songs while bantering with the crowd. He was comfortable enough to perform former bandmate Jay Bennett’s “My Darling” on request, and even took it in stride as an audience member in the front row forced herself into a duet of “You and I.” She sang Feist’s original part loudly enough that Tweedy laughed, letting her take the parts and correcting her whenever she came in early.
Tweedy’s strength as a solo performer was best demonstrated on his final song when he stepped away from the mic and played “Acuff Rose” without any amplification; After a quick, “can you hear me,” he was left with just his voice and Berklee’s fantastic acoustics to carry the sound through the room, and it brought a seated crowd to their feet.
Bringing the band back and closing with his own “Only the Lord Knows” and the Wilco arrangement of Woody Guthrie’s “California Stars” cemented the mood of the evening. Through the colds and the unannounced guests, the music carried the evening and was strong enough to clear any hurdles.
Of course, it helps when the artist is devoted to his material. Through jokes and interruptions, Jeff Tweedy was steadfast in exploring these songs in this new setting. Like the best of his past work, there were chilling couplets and weird moments of clouded introspection, all given a sense of standing by his own commitment. It wound up being a release for him, too.
Email Nick Tavares at firstname.lastname@example.org