Thursday, November 09, 2006

Jeff Tweedy Review By Jono Baron

I've found myself mired in piles of work over the past week, and I've often sought the refuge of the hard work of others (i.e. musicians) to help put a smile on my face during those arduous days and nights. I try to look at my work with "fresh eyes" after a week or so of effort, and when I read my young friend Jono Baron's review of the recent Jeff Tweedy solo performance at Foellinger Auditorium, it reminded me to look at the music I listen to with "fresh ears." It helped me to remember the wonder and attention to detail that I had when I was 17 and listening to music and having my mind blown by the performances.

Jono Baron is a senior at University High School, and is the Entertainment Editor for the school's newspaper, better known as "The Gargoyle." The following piece was originally published for the Gargoyle on November 3rd, 2006.

Showing up an hour early for a concert you still aren’t sure you have tickets to on a cold, rainy evening usually guarantees massive depression, especially if you care about music as much as I do. But when you’re hoping to see Jeff Tweedy (frontman/lead singer for the popular indie band Wilco) perform solo, as he did Oct. 27 at the Foellinger Auditorium, it’s well worth it.

Late this summer, I was lucky enough to attend Lollapalooza in Chicago and see Wilco perform there for the first time, so I assumed that Tweedy’s solo performance would be on par with that concert, just acoustic. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

It turned out that The Autumn Defense, a Wilco side project started by two of the members (John Stirratt and Pat Sansone) was opening for Tweedy. Up to that point, I’d essentially worshipped Tweedy as a demigod — a brilliant artist, perhaps the last of his kind.

But once these guys started playing, I knew he wasn’t the only band member contributing to Wilco’s greatness. Stirratt and Sansone’s musical aptitude was flooring: Each would take turns playing the bass, acoustic guitar, and keyboard, fusing blues and jazz melodies, folk, rock, and even Latin styles into their music in such a convincingly effortless manner that I couldn’t believe my ears.

You never hear these sounds come together all at once in Wilco. In fact, the capacity for emotion and harmony that Stirratt and Sansone showed just had me awestruck — I never would have guessed that two members of Wilco on their own could create a sound filled with such vigor. It manufactured in my mind a new lens through which I could perceive Wilco’s music.

But even though The Autumn Defense did have such an effect on me, Tweedy’s own performance was simply remarkable — almost too inspirational for words. I generally avoid describing “spiritual” and “transcendent” experiences in relation to pop music (no matter how steeped in indie culture the artist is), but I can’t find any other words within me or any thesaurus to fully describe the Jeff Tweedy experience.

I’ve seen Wilco before, and I’ve praised their personal nature; their music is a manipulation of some unknown creative force, not a drive for cash, and that energy coagulates into a visible aura live. But even after getting a taste of Wilco’s live atmosphere, I wasn’t ready for the level on which Tweedy performed.

Indeed, I have literally perceived Tweedy as living on some higher plane of existence, but his performance was so tangible and down to earth that any previous notions of his godlike origins immediately exited my mind. “Personal” takes on a different meaning when members of an audience are actually talking to the performers, tossing compliments, telling stories, and making jokes back and forth. This is the kind of show that Tweedy put on at Foellinger.

Between songs, he talked about his new DVD release, “Sunken Treasure: Live in the Pacific Northwest” (afraid he’d have to reuse jokes from it), told stories about fans coming onstage and being a bit too loyal, and insulted particularly annoying members of the crowd. Twice, he started songs and couldn’t remember words or chords, and the audience helped him out; afterward he joked about his ineptitude, and even asked if we the audience wanted him do the whole number over again. It wasn’t an act or anything — he just forgot on the more complicated songs. After all, he is only human. There’s a margin for error.

Otherwise, listening to Tweedy play was violently beautiful. As he performed alone on the stage with just a guitar and a microphone, I was not only able to finally grasp the true extent of his abilities, but I also finally understood Wilco as “Jeff Tweedy.” The nature of his performance allowed me to look deeply into his music and consider his own attachment to his music.

The fact that he went acoustic affirmed the humanity of the performance, giving it a raw feel, unrefined, though striking in every way because of the basic tones an acoustic guitar has to offer on its own. I’ve heard that a guitar, at the pinnacle of its use, is simply a six-stringed representation of the wielder’s soul, and that’s the only way I can truly describe Tweedy’s playing.

The complex picking, ever-enticing chord progressions, one-of-a-kind harmonization, and amazing vocals aside, Tweedy, on his own, played with all of his heart and soul put together, and that made all the difference.


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