Thursday, March 24, 2011

Live Review:
Jeff Tweedy @ Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Toronto, March 22, 2011

(Photograph: Timothy Turner)

While taking a break from recording the follow-up to the 2009 album, Wilco (The Album), Jeff Tweedy left his bandmates at home and kicked off a solo tour in Toronto on Tuesday for the first of two intimate performances at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre.

With a venue no bigger than a high school auditorium and not a bad seat in the house, Tweedy shyly took the stage almost resembling “The Man in Black” and took a sold-out 1300 capacity venue and made it feel like your living room. He wasted no time strapping on one of the five acoustic guitars surrounding him in a semi-circle, and launched straight into “In A Future Age” to kick-start the evening’s festivities.
Tweedy treated the audience made up of die-hard and devout Wilco fans to a vast variety of favourites and rarities from the Wilco catalogue, as well as a few numbers such as the whistley “Ruling Class” from his work with Loose Fur, and “Wait Up” from his Uncle Tupelo days.

Tweedy has been known for being intolerant with crowds and has had a tendency to show his cranky side in the past, but he was in fine form on Tuesday night displaying his quick-wit and dry humoured stage banter that would make most stand-up comedians jealous, especially when dealing with the mostly obnoxious male fans hollering out in-between songs displaying their man-love for the frontman, all the while handling it like a seasoned pro.

If there’s one thing particularly unique about Wilco and Tweedy solo shows what sets them apart from other bands is that they let their fans help build their set lists night after night, via the band’s website. With that being said, and happy to oblige, he then in turn poked fun at those fans calling them “geeks” who actually take the time to log on and specifically request certain songs for shows. This was his excuse for having mucked up the guitar arrangement on a couple of songs and forgetting lyrics on another, specifically “Poor Places”. But really, no one cared. It made for a good laugh and an incredible opportunity to hear how all these songs were likely originally conceived from their barebones and rarest form. Especial bright spots, “I’m Always In Love”, and the Tweedy penned Mavis Staple track, “You Are Not Alone”.

“Have I ever played solo in Toronto before?”, Tweedy questioned from the stage, as he was immediately reminded from the faithful in front that he had indeed done so back in 2002. “Oooh, the bad old days” wincing with a shudder. Body language alone indicated he may have been reminded of a low-point in time when turmoil and infighting were at its peak within the band (captured and well documented in the film, I Am Trying to Break Your Heart: A Film About Wilco). A few other evening highlights were an unprovoked sing-along of “happy birthday” after Tweedy announced it was his guitar tech Steve’s birthday, as well as announcing he had paid a visit to Toronto’s Sky Blue Sky sandwich shop for a bite to eat, an eatery completely inspired by Wilco and named after their 2007 album of the same name.

After a full set, Tweedy returned for a three song encore, only to leave and return for a second encore to perform “Acuff-Rose”, completely unplugged with no PA. Just a man and his acoustic guitar at the very edge of the stage.

Needless to say, a good night was had by all the Tweedy faithful, as the house lights emerged and a sea of smiles appeared - it pretty much said it all.

4.5 out of 5

In a Future Age
Spiders (Kidsmoke)
Open up Your Mind
I Am Trying to Break Your Heart
One Wing
Muzzle of Bees
Chinese Apple
Via Chicago
Please Be Patient With Me
I’m Always in Love
The Ruling Class
You Are Not Alone
Wait Up
Magazine Called Sunset
Poor Places

Jesus Etc
California Stars
Shot in the Arm

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