Show Review: Jeff Tweedy @ Mayo Civic Center

Raghav Mehta

For a musician who spent a healthy chunk of his career grappling with drug addiction and band-member drama, Jeff Tweedy’s ever-goofy demeanor is admirable and, well, thoroughly entertaining. Anyone who’s attended a Wilco show (and remembered it) knows what I’m talking about. On stage Tweedy acts more like a seasoned comic than an aging rock star, sprinkling his sets with jocular banter and playful crowd interaction. It’s a useful skill considering the guy happens to write some terribly sad tunes.

And on Tuesday night Tweedy’s comedic shtick served as a proper counter to a crowd that just couldn’t seem to keep their mouths shut.  From the interminable (and seemingly arbitrary) “woos!” and “yeahs!” to the almost hostile-sounding song requests, the audience at Rochester’s Mayo Civic Center seemed better suited for an evening with Sebastian Bach than Wilco’s unassuming frontman.

(photo courtesy of Jules Ameel)

“Hot Cross Buns? This is a family show sir,” he quipped in response to an audience member’s facetious (and assumedly alcohol-fueled) request. 

But despite all the countless interruptions the beloved aquarium drinker forged on with consummate ease like any top-tier musician would. Over the course of what ended up being an almost-90 minute performance, the set drew from the very best of Tweedy’s sprawling 20-year old songbook. And you could never really guess where he was going to wander off to next.

Taking the prize for most unpredictable show opener of all time, Tweedy kicked off the night with an acoustic rendition of “Spiders (Kidsmoke)” before tearing into fan favorites that included “Via Chicago” and “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart.” While the majority of the night offered Wilco fare, he managed to squeeze in some older cuts, indulging in material that surely enlivened the sea of “Tweed-Heads” in attendance. Whether it was Golden Smog’s “Pecan Pie” or Uncle Tupelo’s “New Madrid,” he didn’t shy away from revisiting his alt-country heyday. Tweedy’s a musician who embraces his roots, even if his songwriting has improved by leaps and bounds since.

Nearing the end of his double-encore, he ditched the mic as he led into “Walkin'” and played the remainder of his set at the edge of the stage, making what was already an intimate performance feel like a camp fire sing-along.

While Wilco’s last two albums have been mediocre at best, Tweedy doesn’t seem to have lost his flair. If anything, Tuesday night was merely more proof of just how spectacularly talented the man still is. He’s not just the lead singer for what is arguably America’s greatest living rock ‘n roll band – he’s a world-class songwriter in his own right. And all he needs is a guitar to prove it to you. 

Setlist:

Spiders (Kidsmoke)/ Remember the Mountain Bed/ One Wing/ I Am Trying to Break Your Heart/ Cars Can’t Escape/ Via Chicago/ You and I/ Far, Far Away/ Muzzle of Bees/ Not for the Season/ New Madrid (Uncle Tupelo)/ I’m Always in Love/ [New song]/ I’ll Fight/ Jesus Etc./ Forget the Flowers/ Radio King (Golden Smog)/ Hummingbird/ Theologians/ I’m the Man Who Loves You

Encore 1: Pecan Pie (Golden Smog)/ Casino Queen/ Passenger Side

Encore 2: Walkin’/ Dreamer In My Dreams