After almost 20 years of building Wilco into America’s preeminent rock and roll band, it’s easy to assume we know everything we need to know about Jeff Tweedy. We know he can craft tunes in a vast assortment of shapes and forms, from arty and oblique masterpieces like Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and A Ghost Is Born through to more arrow straight pop rock fare (AM, Being There, Sky Blue Sky). He’s also shown himself to be vulnerable enough to open his aching heart up for the world to see. Sukirerae, the singer’s first foray into solo territory under the name Tweedy, boasts some of the most touching and personal songs of his career.
But one less-obvious thread of the Jeff Tweedy narrative that too easily gets glossed over sometimes is that fact that he’s a funny guy. Hilarious, even. His humor, warm but dry and self-effacing almost to a fault at times, rarely sees the light of day on record. Instead, Tweedy’s most robust comic moments pop up on the fly whilst performing onstage. Those in attendance of the singer’s near-sold out show at the Berklee Performance Center Friday night can attest to this. For the better part of two hours, Tweedy regaled the small, intimate auditorium with songs new and old, a few anecdotes, and plenty of playful repartee with his faithful clientele.
After a brief but likable set from Brooklyn indie poppers Hospitality kicked things off on a pleasant note, Tweedy and band, anchored by Jeff’s son Spencer behind the kit, took the stage and launched into a sizeable portion of Sukierae, starting with the sweet but pain-stricken “Nobody Dies Anymore.” For a good half hour or 40 minutes, Tweedy led the band through six or seven songs in disciplined, workmanlike fashion, offering up little to the crowd in the way of banter save for a gee-shucks smile or an off-mic “thanks.” But if it took him a little bit to open up, it was well worth the wait. Before long, Tweedy began egging on the crowd with the kind of engaging back and forth chit chat that the performance so desperately craved. It started with the introduction of the band (“I’m just going to introduce Jim tonight,” he joked of his guitar player. “It’s your night, buddy.”), which later gave way to some good-natured hippie ribbing and jokes about blowing Spencer’s college tuition on guitars (“That’s three semesters right here,” he teased his son.) For a guy who’s built his name on weighty, thought provoking music and lyrics, it was the human, everyman side of Tweedy that won the audience over big.
But let’s give the songs a little credit too. After a solid hour of cutting his teeth on Sukierae, the band left Jeff to his own devices, and the singer didn’t disappoint. Stripped down versions of “Viva Chicago,” “Muzzle of Bees”, “Passenger Side”, and “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart” and others had the room captivated, while Tweedy effortlessly navigated his way through an impromptu duet of “You And I” with an overeager female fan (“It’s like we never met,” he sang hilariously without breaking eye contact with his newfound musical partner). After the band rejoined Tweedy for a breezy rendition of Woodie Guthrie’s “California Stars,” the band called it a night.
Tip your server, try the veal.