It's an amazing experience to see a musician walk onstage with a guitar and have the room come to complete silence. Jeff Tweedy had everyone hanging on every word from the first notes of "Via Chicago." An uncontrollable rush of chills and hairs standing on end came as he worked his way through the song. The intimacy of the performance was just as crushing as all the beautiful imperfections that come with a person with an acoustic guitar and something to say.
It only went deeper with the second song‚ "Remember the Mountain Bed‚" and I felt the chills go further and my eyes water a bit. His voice felt like an equal dose of honey and smoke. It moved with so much suggestion and humanness that it skipped all the bullshit and got right to the space of urgent sincerity. Like the best songwriters‚ Tweedy has that magic: you have a feeling; he knows how to deliver it. When you're trying to figure out how to express something‚ he puts it into words. It comes with as much ache as it does beauty. It wouldn't be right if there wasn't a handful of bum guitar notes and strange twangs to make it really ring true. It's all too real not to.
Tweedy's appearance came on time. With everything going on around us‚ it felt necessary to not only have an evening with a storyteller‚ but to share it with so many people. We're all feeling something‚ and it's lingering in the air like an unspoken truth. We all wanted it‚ something‚ even if we didn't know what that was. It's nice to come together and know we're not alone‚ and that other people are hurting‚ confused‚ uncertain‚ or just looking for something to shake them loose. It's empowering as hell to be in a room and feel that vibe and have the songs resonate so profoundly.
He made it clear that when you strip away all the sonic experimentations and ear candy that come with Wilco‚ all you're left with is a naked‚ great song. It was one after another. The pinnacle for me came late in the show during "Jesus‚ etc." when he sang the line "Our love‚ our love is all of God's money." It came with rocket urgency and felt like time stopped for a second. You can only hope you get moments like that every time you see live music.
Not only were the songs engaging‚ but Tweedy was also really funny and had some fantastic banter with the audience. It was the perfect amount prickles‚ salt and self-deprecation. He joked about being harassed by fans while he was biking around town earlier in the day and mentioned the abysmal‚ gray day outside. "Perfect for a Jeff Tweedy show‚" he said. He made fun of his old band Uncle Tupelo and how there were always a lack of females in the audience at their shows. And he even did the obligatory mention of Phish during "Heavy Metal Drummer‚" replacing Kiss with Phish in the line‚ "Playing Kiss covers‚ beautiful and stoned."
It was all the perfect dynamic to have an experience where everyone stops for second and appreciates what they have around them. And Tweedy finished it off beautifully by walking out to the edge of the stage and playing the last two songs‚ "Someone Else's Song" and "Acuff-Rose‚" without any amplification‚ and you could hear every word.
Just a week before‚ I saw Bruce Springsteen getting interviewed by Jon Stewart on The Daily Show. He talked about the moral‚ spiritual and economic collapse this country has faced in recent times‚ and he said‚ "People go to storytellers when times are like that." That statement couldn't have been more true standing there taking it all in with Tweedy and the sold-out crowd at Higher Ground.