Sunday’s sold-out First Avenue crowd didn’t really see a different side of Jeff Tweedy from what’s offered at a typical Wilco show. They saw three different sides.
The two-hour concert by the Wilco frontman’s new namesake family band, Tweedy -- with 19-year-old son Spencer Tweedy on drums – was divvied up into a trio of distinct sections: an 11-song run through their alternately languid, lovely, quirky and raw double album “Sukierae,” with two more tunes that fit that mold; a nine-song solo-acoustic set by Jeff; then a loose, spirited, seven-song free-for-all finale in the spirit of his old Minneapolis-based all-star band Golden Smog, whose Gary Louris joined in for the final four numbers.
One constant element throughout the show was the gooey love-fest atmosphere. Not exactly news, Minnesota loves the Tweedster so much he could probably run for public office here (his honorary Duluth citizenship might mean he’s actually eligible, too). Of greater note Sunday, the love was heavily felt from both sides. Early in the set, Jeff paid homage to First Avenue, where he has performed often going back to his first breakout band Uncle Tupelo in the late-‘80s but hadn't played in a decade.
“I remember the stage being higher -- or maybe I was higher,” he quipped. Later, he got downright sentimental talking more generally about the city: “All the way back to Uncle Tupelo, this town has made us feel good, made us feel like we could do this. I’m extremely grateful. It’s an oasis for every rock band in the world.”
Only a supportive, faithful crowd probably would have stayed so attentive and appreciative during the lengthy and mostly mellow, truly low-key run of “Sukierae” songs that kicked off the show. That’s not really a slam, although a few of the tunes were so mid-tempo they felt half-dead, including “New Moon” and “Nobody Dies Anymore.” Jeff actually joked of the sluggish pacing at one point, saying, “We’re trying to bring waltzes back. It’s a thankless job, but it’s been Spencer’s lifelong dream.”
There were some divine moments scattered about, though, including the folky but edgy opener “Fake Fur Coat” and the jaggedly poppy “Summer Noon.” Never trying to sound like a stand-in for Wilco, the band left a lot of space between melodies but didn’t lie back when it counted, like in the vaguely Kraut-rocky “Diamond Light, Pt. 1.” Spencer showed as much steadiness and personality behind the kit as he did in an interview ahead of the show, and guitarist Jim Elkington (from Eleventh Dream Day) added some nice, elegant but not flashy textures in “Flowering” and several more. Before the band left the stage to the tune of “Low Key” mid-show, they really hit their high point with Jeff’s Mavis Staples contribution, “You Are Not Alone,” and a similarly warm, good-vibey cover of “Love Like a Wire” by late Chicago singer/songwriter Diane Izzo.
The solo set was nothing the diehards hadn’t seen before -- Jeff has often done similar acoustic outings between Wilco album cycles -- but they hadn’t seen him do it at First Ave since 2005. Performing on a darkened stage with a lone light shining from below, he threw in a couple surprises, including “Hotel Arizona” and Golden Smog’s “Please Tell My Brother,” in addition to such usual fare as “Via Chicago,” “Jesus, Etc.,” “Passenger Side” and Uncle Tupelo’s “New Madrid.”
The acoustic format was reprised later when Louris came out for duo versions of the Smog nuggets “Long Time Ago” and “Radio King.” Tweedy gave the Jayhawks frontman a coy non-introduction: “Look who I found… Prince!” Later, before the finale of “California Stars” with the band, Louris out-zingered the star of the show when he declared, “It’s an honor to be up here with Mr. Tweedy… Spencer Tweedy, I mean.”
Nothing snarky could be said at show’s end, though, when Spencer shared a big hug with his dad before walking off stage. Both Tweedys appeared to be having a blast throughout Sunday’s performance. You don’t need to be a college grad – which Spencer will aim to be come fall -- to know this probably won’t be the last time we see them touring together.
Here's Sunday's set list(s):
WITH THE BAND: Fake Fur Coat / Diamond Light Pt.1 / Flowering / World Away / New Moon / Nobody Dies Anymore / Hazel / Summer Noon / You Are Not Alone / Love Like a Wire (Diane Izzo cover) / Wait For Love / High As Hello / Low Key
SOLO ACOUSTIC: Via Chicago / I Am Trying to Break Your Heart / New Madrid / Hotel Arizona / Passenger Side / Please Tell My Brother / Born Alone / Jesus, Etc. / I’m the Man Who Loves You
WITH BAND AGAIN: Please Don't Let Me Be So Understood / Only the Lord Knows (Mavis Staples cover) / The Losing End (Neil Young cover) WITH GARY LOURIS: Long Time Ago / Radio King / Give Back the Key to My Heart (Doug Sahm cover) / California Stars