There’s a familiarity between Jeff Tweedy and his Twin Cities audience that’s mostly wonderful, but also kind of weird. Both sides played a role in making the Wilco frontman’s solo acoustic set Friday night at the Pantages Theatre another memorable one.
Just 10 months after Wilco ushered in a yearlong hiatus with a three-night finale at the Palace in St. Paul — one fan yelled, “We missed you!” Friday as if it had been 10 years — Tweedy used the sold-out Pantages gig to debut a batch of new tunes and revisit a few by his other bands, Uncle Tupelo and Twin Cities-based all-star ensemble Golden Smog.
The Chicago-based Tweedy, who appeared in a Cubs cap, and Friday’s crowd showed great mutual faith by adding and eagerly accepting so many new songs in the set list.
He played six of them total, starting with the evocative opener, “Bombs Above,” an end-of-days/sign-of-the-times ditty with such ominous lines as, “I should’ve done more to stop the war.” There was a similar doomsday tone in “Let’s Go Rain,” another new one about Noah’s Ark — “a pretty ripe story for a metaphor right now,” Tweedy explained.
At least one of the new tunes had a lighter, sweeter tone — though that one, too, included the rather gloomy line, “We all think about dying, but don’t let it kill you.”
Those new tunes made for a rewarding, listening-session type of experience, but the bigger payoff for the fanatical fans came in the form of older rarities.
Foremost among them was the folky epic “Remember the Mountain Bed,” from Wilco’s Woody Guthrie song sessions with Billy Bragg. There was also a quietly attuned response for the two Golden Smog nuggets, “Please Tell My Brother” and “Radio King,” and for the cover of Bob Dylan’s “Simple Twist of Fate” — which apparently had been requested preshow by his Smog mate Dan Murphy (ex-Soul Asylum guitarist).
“As if I haven’t written 400 songs myself,” Tweedy humorously deadpanned.
Rowdier responses greeted the Uncle Tupelo songs “New Madrid” and “Acuff-Rose,” which came off more like campfire singalongs. Same with all the standard Wilco favorites that dotted the set, including “Passenger Side,” “Hummingbird,” “Misunderstood,” “Jesus Etc.,” “Summer Teeth” and “California Stars” — the latter two of which were so familiar to the 1,000 fans, they nailed the harmonious backup vocals counter to Tweedy’s lead parts.
Unfortunately, some fans also thought they knew Tweedy so well they could hold conversations with him on stage. When he shushed one fan, another loudmouth asked the singer if he thinks he’s “too good to talk” to them. Tweedy shot back, “No, I just think all the other people here didn’t pay to hear me talk to you.”
In truth, the conversational, informal, behind-the-curtain aspect of the 95-minute set was again what made it special, as has been the case of solo Tweedy gigs in town going back to the 400 Bar in 2003. But he’s not actually playing in bars anymore, folks.