Almost every act that plays the Orpheum Theatre comments on the remarkably tall stage, and Jeff Tweedy was no exception.
During his packed show on Saturday, the Wilco frontman called the unusually high platform "over-compensatory."
"I'm not even sure what that means," he joked before pretending to touch the upper balcony with his hands.
What was exceptional about Tweedy's nearly two-hour set was the way he commanded the crowd with only an acoustic guitar, a harmonica and his voice. The only musical help he got for the main part of his performance came from the audience, which enthusiastically provided backup vocals on Wilco favorites like "Summerteeth," "Heavy Metal Drummer" and "Someday Soon."
Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche opened the first show of Tweedy's solo tour with 45 minutes of eerie, atmospheric drums. Kotche's innovative style of playing can be glimpsed on Wilco records, but his African and Latin-influenced set left no doubt about what he can do. Using an eclectic drum kit and a vibraphone, Kotche played ethnic rhythms to a backdrop of unusual melodies and ambient noise. This weird, but fascinating mix featured both recorded and looped sounds. The audience was impressed and listened politely, but it seemed clear they were waiting for the main attraction.
Tweedy hit the stage with a haunting reworking of the Wilco rocker "Spiders (Kidsmoke)," an imposing figure with his unshaven face and a bulky black coat. As a performer, he was sublime — absolutely at ease in front of a crowed theatre.
His stony stare seemed somewhat aloof at first. But once Tweedy began playing, his music made an intimate connection with the audience. Over the next hour and a half, the audience was on the edge of their seats, silently mouthing the lyrics for fear of not being able to hear the beautiful sounds coming from the stage. It was only on the up-tempo songs that they dared to sing and clap along.
Unfortunately, the audience was even over enthusiastic at times. Since Tweedy was in no hurry to ruin the laidback mood of the concert, there were several pauses between songs. A few bold audience members took these opportunities to scream "Go White Sox!" at the Chicago native, which was out of place at the energetic, but subdued show.
Tweedy took it all in stride by making fun of the White Sox fans who argue over how much they love the team. This was followed by a threat to "go sensitive singer-songwriter on your ass."
"I'll sing the sweetest, most tender ballads you'll ever hear," Tweedy said, before doing just that.
Tweedy played several lesser-known, early Wilco tunes, as well as songs from his other ventures. Aside from a few songs from his former band, Uncle Tupelo, Tweedy sang "Please Tell My Brother" from his side project Golden Smog and a new song from his other project, Loose Fur.
Tweedy memorialized one of his idols on the tune "Bob Dylan's 49th Beard," then covered Dylan's "John Wesley Harding" during the encore. It was a perfect example of the unique blend of Americana and noise rock Tweedy achieved with Wilco.
Throughout the night, his slightly rough voice was in fine form. Tweedy's vocals can sound weak at times, but Saturday night he managed to sound even better than he does on his records.
Tweedy's subtle humor was in fine form as well. The erstwhile Kerry-supporter mimicked President Bush after forgetting the lyrics to the Uncle Tupelo song "Gun."
"I'm in a rough patch … it's hard work," he said, starting the song over.
The audience didn't mind, rising to their feet as Tweedy left the stage three songs later. The standing ovation went on until Tweedy returned with his son Spencer. The nine-year-old joined in on drums for "I'm the Man Who Loves You" from Wilco's critically acclaimed Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.
Tweedy played "Airline to Heaven" and "Red-Eyed and Blue" alone before Glenn Kotche sat down at the drums for four more songs. The duo walked off only to be summoned back by the still-energetic audience.
Tweedy came out alone for the second encore, "Passenger Side," from Wilco's first album. After the song, he said goodnight again, and members of the audience were truly sad to see him go.