Calvin Theatre, Northampton, MA.
March 27, 2009
Northampton’s Calvin Theatre transformed into a dark, intimate living room as Jeff Tweedy took the stage last Friday. In a characteristically happy mood, though more talkative than usual, Tweedy sounded up close and personal, his voice naked with only a guitar behind it. Bringing an arsenal of guitars with him (arced around him on stage), he smoothly switched between different guitars, evoking a soothing palette of sounds for his meticulous set list selections. Early in the set he mentioned that he looked through his archives to see what he played the last time he was at Calvin Theatre just to make sure he didn’t play the same song twice.
The first set opened with a meditative version of the Wilco classic “Spiders.” Charging through the first handful of songs, Tweedy excused himself, saying “I didn’t get a chance to say ‘hello.’” Without the colossal soundscape of Wilco in the mix, Tweedy’s words evoked a new sense of poetic hopefulness and unearthed the very authentic human nature of some of his more poignant lyrics. The vocal delivery was spot on, and Tweedy’s vocal range widened as he switched to deeper-tuned guitars (the audience collectively gasped as he strummed a resounding D-major in an open tuning.)
The evening flowed nicely, and fans instantly recognized Wilco songs such as “Muzzle of Bees,” “Jesus, Etc.,” and “Forget the Flowers.” Of these songs, “Muzzle of Bees” benefited most from a delicate reworking of the guitar part, which Tweedy carefully organized for the majority of the songs. “Forget the Flowers,” with its country-folk vibe, prompted the audience to start clapping, albeit off the beat. Tweedy jokingly chided the audience’s “lack of talent” for rhythm. Departing from the Wilco catalog, Tweedy also made sure to play Woody Guthrie tunes such as “One By One,” and “Remember the Mountain Bed.”
In between songs, fans yelled out song requests; “Music to my ears,” Tweedy joked, having expected the onslaught of demands. The set list for the night was in fact also guided by requests sent into the Wilco website in the days prior to the show. In a lighthearted mood, Tweedy shared with the audience humorous (yet innocently rude) bits of advice he learned from his father. Exceedingly engaging with the members of the front row, Tweedy even took on an eager fan’s gentle urging to play a 12-string guitar.
As is expected these days at any show, Tweedy arrived on stage for three encores. He rounded out the first encore with a surprising and moving version of Radiohead’s “Fake Plastic Trees,” a song that has only appeared in shows this year. The second encore included a new song, comically titled “Wilco (The Song).” Tweedy assured the audience during the song’s catchy chorus that “Wilco will love you,” no matter who you are. As a prize to the audience, Tweedy stepped out for a third and final encore, this time at the edge of the stage and with no amplification treating the audience to energetic versions of “Dreamer in My Dreams” and “Acuff Rose.”
Twenty-four songs flew by during the nearly two hour show, and Tweedy’s soulful singing and playful conversation made it feel like the audience was visiting an old friend. Revealing two new songs at the show, the crowd got a small taste of what’s to come when Tweedy joins back with Wilco to start working on the follow-up record to 2007’s Sky Blue Sky.