Jeff Tweedy/The Town Hall/New York, NY/April 8, 2019
Jeff Tweedy isn’t exactly a household name, but as far as American singer-songwriters go, the man is a bit of an institution. After a lengthy career fronting Wilco—and prior to that, the band that essentially invented alt-country, Uncle Tupelo—Tweedy is viewed with reverence among music critics and fans who embrace artists outside the mainstream. The man even has his own bobblehead, which was for sale at the merch table when Tweedy pulled into New York City for two acoustic shows at Town Hall in early April.
Tweedy has been prolific in the past year, releasing an autobiography, and two solo records which formed the bulk of Tweedy’s set list.
Striding onstage before the house lights had barely dimmed, the Illinois native opened with “Bombs Above” and “Some Birds,” both from the 2018 album Warm. Next up was a lengthy rendition of the deep Wilco cut “One Sunday Morning,” with the audience hushed in rapt attention to take in Tweedy’s gentle vocals and acoustic guitar riffs.
It was a befitting opening for a performer comfortable in his own skin as well as his material. Rather than greet the crowd with a collection of old favorites, he leaned on newer songs to set the evening’s tone. In addition to his more recent solo work, Tweedy dropped an Uncle Tupelo favorite “New Madrid,” and Wilco classics like “Jesus, Etc.,” “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart,” and “Misunderstood,” which closed the show as the audience shouted along with every word.
Throughout the night, Tweedy engaged in playful and snarky banter with the crowd, mocking them for cheering a reference to New York City in his lyrics (“I thought you were more sophisticated than that,” he said) and chastising a fan for repeatedly yelling out a request for “Radio King,” a 1996 rarity from the side project Golden Smog. Near the end of the set, Tweedy relented and played the song.
Away from the full-band treatment of Wilco, Tweedy’s songs were exposed in their raw simplicity. Armed only with an acoustic guitar, Tweedy ensured that his lyrics held more heft. Though many of his songs deal with dark subject matter, they are often encased in breezy melodies.
In his autobiography, Tweedy revealed that he enjoys sad songs the most. “The ones that expose the rawest vein, that I’m most reluctant to sing out loud, always feel the most authentic,” he wrote. It’s a testament to his skill as an artist that Tweedy can sing a deeply personal song, yet still have a theater full of people singing along with him. While Tweedy performed from his heart, it hit a nerve that resonated deeply with his followers.