Review by Tomas Flint, photos by Kelli Marsh.
When Jeff Tweedy took to the storied stage of Buffalo’s iconic Town Ballroom this past Wednesday it was clear that he had nothing to prove. The alt country, alt rock, alt convention pioneer had once again cut a detour into the sonic highway he’s been paving for the better part of the last three decades. This time with his newly formed band , Tweedy, and a repertoire of fresh yet strangely familiar songs that left the audience craving Uncle Tupelo, longing for Loose Fur, begging for Wilco yet somehow completely immersed in the journey at hand.
Tweedy consists of Jeff on guitar and lead vocals, long-time friend/collaborator and down-right dynamite musician – Darin Gray on bass, the fabulous Jim Elkington on guitar, and the multitalented, multi-instrumentalist Liam Cunningham. Oh, and who better to round off the new lineup than Tweedy’s 18-year old son Spencer on drums? He has grown up quite a bit since his appearance behind a kit in Sam Jones’ 2002 I Am Trying to Break Your Heart – A Film About Wilco. Stands to reason, Spencer was 6 at the time. He has come a long way since then, and so has dad.
Tweedy took the stage armed with new material from their recently released 20-track, 74 minute debut album Sukierae – an album whose title is fittingly the nickname of Jeff’s wife & Spencer’s mother, Suzie Miller. The band kicked things off with a viciously beautiful 14-song set of masterfully developed songs that somehow felt Jeff Tweedy influenced, yet altogether Tweedy the band. Highlights of that set included the melodic, “Summer Noon”, the heart-wrenching yet charming, “Nobody Dies Anymore” and the drum-forward ever-shifting, “Diamond Light Pt. 1”. The band remained focused throughout the first set, with very little of the slightly awkward, yet adorable banter that Jeff has been known to strike up with his audiences over the years.
Then the gloves came off…
Turning to his son and offering a hug, Jeff suggested the band take a break and the lighting crew dim the stage. It was time in the program for Jeff to dig into his immense catalog and perform some choice numbers on his own. Just he and those beautiful acoustic guitars that he plays so effortlessly. The crowd sang along softly and mostly in key in their very best Jeff Tweedy voice – “I am an American aquarium drinker, I assassin down the avenue”. For the next hour, Jeff delighted all in attendance with songs of familiarity from his time with Uncle Tupelo, Loose Fur and Wilco. Classics like “Jesus, etc.”, “Hummingbird”, “I’m the Man Who Loves You” and “A Shot in the Arm” were included in the 12 song set. All interlaced with the type of crowd interaction that has become an irreplaceable aspect of the Live Jeff Tweedy Experience. “Free Bird” was requested prompting Jeff to explain his elaborate plan to form a coalition to rid the World of those who shout “Free Bird” at any live performance. Whistling solos were met with large applause which led to…more whistling solos.
When the band re-emerged, Jeff had everyone in the audience right where he always does, wrapped tightly around his finger. “Thank you Buffalo, you are hands down the best audience we’ve had on this tour” yelled Jeff. “We’re off to Michigan tomorrow and well, we don’t want to leave. We could play this room every night.” The 5-song encore featured yet another new melodic Tweedy song, “Please Don’t Let Me Be So Understood”, covers of Mavis Staples’ “Only the Lord Knows” and Doug Sahm’s “Give back the Key to My Heart”, “California Stars” from Jeff’s Mermaid Avenue Project and “Acuff-Rose” from the Uncle Tupelo vault.
It was a beautiful journey through Jeff Tweedy’s personal history and musical history. Blended perfectly for a stellar performance in a legendary place.
Setlist: Nobody Dies Anymore, Flowering, Summer Noon, World Away, New Moon, Pigeons, Desert Bell, Why Why Why?, High As Hello, Fake Fur Coat, Diamond Light Pt. 1, Hazel, Love Like a Wire (Diane Izzo cover), Low Key
Solo: I Am Trying To Break Your Heart, One Wing, Reservations, New Madrid (Uncle Tupelo), Please Tell My Brother, Hummingbird, The Ruling Class, Passenger Side, Jesus, Etc., Misunderstood, I’m the Man Who Loves You, A Shot in the Arm
Encore: Please Don’t Let Me Be So Understood, Only The Lord Knows (Mavis Staples cover), Give Back The Key To My Heart (Doug Sahm cover), California Stars, Acuff-Rose