Tweedy (with Sound Opinions Live)
July 17th, 2014
As the resident (and only) Wilco fan on this blog, I feel it’s my civic duty to bring you the Tweedy beat. What better way to do that than coverage of Jeff Tweedy (frontman of Wilco) and Spencer Tweedy ‘s (Jeff’s 18 year old son and drummer) interview and performance last night. The show was for Sound Opinions – one of the best radio shows/podcasts around – and took place at Lincoln Hall, certainly one of Chicago’s finest music establishments. Sound Opinions put on this event the day before the Pitchfork Music Festival last year with Savages and Parquet Courts (a one-two punch if there ever was one), and this year’s show was no slouch itself.
Wilco fans have long-awaited a Jeff Tweedy solo album, but those fans will have to wait longer since his originally-speculated solo album is actually under the name Tweedy, making it a two man project between Jeff and his son Spencer. Spencer joked about his dad playing into the whole “dad rock” narrative that has plagued Wilco in the music critic world ever since 2007’s Sky Blue Sky, but after hearing the interview, I must admit I think the family element of this project is actually pretty special. The 20-song album is named Sukierae, a nickname for Jeff’s wife and Spencer’s mom Sue Miller, who has been battling lymphoma the past six months. The album has become a way for the two to cope with the experience, making the tone and spirit of this album pretty therapeutic in nature. VIP tickets were sold for the event to raise money towards a Leukemia/Lymphoma cancer awareness society, and Sue was even in attendance shouting out a couple times into the interview in good spirits. Jeff also revealed her prognosis is looking promising, but the fight is long from over.
Beyond the familial nature of the album, Spencer and Jeff discussed the conception of the album (their sessions for gospel legend Mavis Staple’s latest album One True Vine, which Jeff produced and Spencer played on), Spencer’s anticipation in class every day as a senior in high school waiting for the bell to ring so he could go record, and Jeff’s recent TV cameos on Portlandia and Parks and Recreation. Greg Kot and Jim DeRogatis, the two critics behind Sound Opinions, also asked the Tweedy’s about a show signature: the desert island jukebox pick. Spencer went with Paul McCartney’s RAM and Jeff went with the Stooges Funhouse, both fantastic and slightly surprising choices.
The band then jumped into a 75-minute set, filled with the lion’s share of the 20 tracks from Sukierae and capped off by “California Stars”, the Woody Guthrie cover Wilco often encores with that was also featured on Mermaid Avenue, their Woody Guthrie covers album with English folkie Billy Bragg. I had heard four of the Sukierae songs already from the interwebs, but it was a treat to hear almost all these songs for the first time live. The new songs range from stripped-down folk to songs that sound like quintessential Wilco. In the interview, Jeff Tweedy made a point to say there was no real distinction in writing these songs vs. writing Wilco songs, and a handful of the songs that didn’t make the album could land up on Wilco albums down the line. This was very apparent in the music, as many of the tricks Wilco fans have grown accustomed to (the avant-garde guitar explosion in “World Away” or the bouncing bass in “Summer Noon”) are here in spades. It’s also interesting how Spencer’s splashy drumplay has clearly been influenced by Wilco’s Glenn Kotche, probably from drinking in the band’s music his whole life.
The set also sported Jeff Tweedy’s usual amusing stage banter, and some strong play from the rest of the band, consisting of two of Jeff Tweedy’s oldest friends Jim Elkington (guitar) and Darin Gray (bassist) as well as super-talented and super-young Liam Cunningham, who was sort of the Swiss Army Knife for the band, providing additional vocals, guitar, and keys when needed. It was strange seeing Jeff surrounded by a band other than the five gentlemen from Wilco, but cool to see him at such a small venue and a little more opened up than usual. It’s a great introduction to an album I’m sure we will give more coverage upon its release. Until then, here’s to Dad rock!