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Tweedy Delights Kalamazoo

James DuBray | Monday, February 2, 2009

On the night of Thursday, January 29th 2009, Jeff Tweedy took the stage at the State Theatre for his first appearance in Kalamazoo as a professional musician. With five guitars behind him, Tweedy suspended banter and began his solo show with a rendition of the Woody Guthrie penned, “One By One.”The guitar played gently and Tweedy sang as if the words were his own. No longer the wide eyed Belleville 20-something who cut his teeth on punk and traditional country, the father of two solemnly echoed his forbearers’ words, “One by one, my hair is growing gray/One by one, my dreams are fading fast away.” Recently returning from New Zealand, Tweedy appeared to be as healthy as he’s ever been. Sometimes noted for his lack of patience on stage, the benevolent Wilco dictator remained in good spirits despite many inappropriate shout-outs from a few over-served individuals among the over 1,000 fans on hand. Tweedy’s 20-song set was both eclectic and fresh. Reaching all the way back to “Uncle Tupelo’s Anodyne,” Tweedy played at least a song from every Wilco album, as well as his own “Loose Fur” tune, a “Sky Blue Sky” bonus track, a “Yankee” b-side, a Radiohead cover and four new songs.Highlights of the set included Tweedy’s two most overtly sociopolitical songs. In “The Ruling Class,” Tweedy rhythmically sang “Yeah he’s back Jack, shootin’ smack, find him if you wanna get down.” After a rousing reception of applause, Tweedy smiled asking the crowd “So you like songs about Jesus smoking crack, do you?” Wilco staple “Spiders” arrived as a stripped down version of the usual avant-garde guitar brawl.Cheers were shouted, albeit maybe inappropriately, as Tweedy provided a bit of caustic commentary “Spiders are filling out tax returns/ Spinning out webs of deductions and melodies/ On a private beach in Michigan.” Much to the delight of Wilco’s rabid fan base, four contenders for the anticipated Spring 2009 release were played. Originally debuted on The Colbert Report, “Wilco The Song” left fans smiling with its “Summerteeth”-esque leanings.”I Will” sounded even better than the full band version performed at Neil Young’s Bride School Benefit, while the newly debuted “Solitaire” left something to be desired. Tweedy relieved many fans when he conceded “Don’t worry, that won’t be on the new album.” The best of the bunch was the introspective “Everlasting Everything,” which can be found on YouTube already. Lyrically, the song contains typical Tweedy beauty, revealing itself as a love letter from an unusually sure narrator. The first encore began with a shocking rendition of Radiohead’s “Fake Plastic Trees.” Although the Chicago troubadour cannot produce the same falsetto as his British counterpart, it was a delight to hear America’s brilliant front man playing homage to the band across the sea. The second and final two-song encore concluded sans public address, witnessing Tweedy remembering his days as a member of the cult worshiped Saint Louis band Uncle Tupelo. Audience members filled the aisles to get as close to the stage as possible as their idol and friend shouted sentimentally above his own guitar, “Everything cuts against the tide, when you’re by my side.” It was a fitting ending to a show, which featured the most amiable and accessible Jeff Tweedy seen, well, ever. Although a bit of the mystery is lost with Tweedy’s new found happiness, fans can only find hope in the recent displays of positivity from their favorite songwriter. Bearded Canadians, “Great Lake Swimmers” provided a suitable opener. Their brand of melodic folk accompanied by sparse instrumentation was a pleasant surprise for many audience members.