Jeff Tweedy — 3/29/11, Rochester, MN (Mayo Civic Center Presentation Hall)
The other day I saw a headline for a preview article about one of Jeff Tweedy’s recent solo shows that proclaimed: “At solo shows, you never know what Jeff Tweedy will say.” That’s certainly true, and perhaps as much as his music, I think it’s one of the big reasons Jeff continues to draw significant numbers of people to his one-man performances. Parrying with audiences is something Jeff has become expert at over the years, a skill that he has had to develop since some people who come to see him often think nothing of unleashing a stream of aggressively voiced requests, sometimes-weird commentary and other shenanigans. In response, then, it seems like Jeff’s stage banter serves as a defense mechanism as much as anything else.
Tonight’s show at the—deep breath—Mayo Civic Center Presentation Hall (which bore a strong resemblance to a standard high school auditorium, but was surprisingly lively sounding) certainly had its fair share of vocal audience members. And that, in turn, led to some memorable comments on Jeff’s part. Late in the show, he admitted to being “really unnerved by this audience. I thought you were on my side (early on); then I thought you were laughing at me. Now I’m talking like a 16-year-old girl: I’m up-talking. I’m talking like an ‘invaginary girl.'”
The latter comment referred to a funny story Jeff told earlier in the show, between “You And I” and “Far, Far Away” when Jeff had already been rambling for quite a while. First, when someone yelled out “Nailed it!” after he finished “You And I,” he responded, “Please don’t do that all night,” as in assessing his playing. Then he spotted someone wearing a Chicago Cubs jersey toward the front and mentioned how he thought he had seen a bunch of people wearing Cubs jerseys but just realized it might only have been one guy. Jeff asked the guy whether he had been “gaslighting” him and then said, “You don’t know what gaslighting means, do you? The old people do.” From there, the conversation somehow turned to Jeff asking the audience how many people actually lived in Rochester (as well as how many people worked at the Mayo Clinic and at IBM). When a woman yelled out that she and her party had traveled from Boston, Jeff poked some fun at her by saying,”Uh, you know I just played Portland (Maine)? It’s a lot closer to Boston,” and suggested that she wasn’t being very eco-friendly by coming all the way out to Minnesota and saying he hoped she hadn’t come all the way out here just to see him.
When it seemed like Jeff might finally start the next song—he said, “I guess I should stop talking to the audience”—he then related perhaps his funniest story of the night, about how “my 15-year-old son has a friend who’s a girl, who’s not his girlfriend, and my 11-year-old asked him if she was his ‘invaginary friend.”‘
Personally I found it a little difficult to get a good read on the crowd, so I don’t know what Jeff must have been thinking at various points. Initially there was a lot of enthusiastic cheering during some of Jeff’s guitar flourishes, so much so that he stopped to strike a few sarcastic poses in the middle of “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart,” and subsequently said, “You really are the best audience I’ve ever played in front of. You’re really too good. I admit what I was doing on guitar was spectacular.” (Then right on cue, he plucked out a fragment of “Yankee Doodle.”) But later, there was a mysterious burst of laughter midway through “Muzzle Of Bees.” And by the end of the main set, requests were being yelled out intensely enough that Jeff noted that “it sounds so angry when people shout requests. It’s like a mob. … We do have a request page on our Web site. I do look at it. All these songs (on the setlist) were requested.” At which point, someone near the front apparently said, “Whatever.” To which Jeff shot back, “You have a shitty attitude.”
Another bit of banter regarding requests that I particularly enjoyed came after Jeff played “New Madrid,” and said, “Somebody yelled for that ‘New Madrid’ song right before I was gonna play it. It was on the setlist, so it wasn’t a request. Ha ha.” And by way of introducing “Cars Can’t Escape,” he said, “This song always brings the show to a grinding halt, but it was a request. I’m always willing to ruin a show for one person’s happiness.”
Odd crowd aside, I’d say this was one of the better shows on this current solo run. Of course, I’m probably biased toward any show that ends with “Dreamer In My Dreams” performed off PA. But “Casino Queen” was a nice surprise, even though Jeff noted halfway through when he had to sort of sing the guitar solo that playing that one on acoustic guitar probably wasn’t the best idea. On “I’m The Man Who Loves You,” if memory serves, Jeff stopped playing guitar for most of the third verse, singing it a cappella. I don’t remember hearing that before.
At any rate, whether it was a coincidence or Jeff simply decided to ignore any misgivings about the audience and end on a strong note, he wound up playing more songs than any show thus far (26) and longer (approximately 1 hour, 50 minutes). So perchance, did Jeff have a better time of it than it sometimes appeared?
Here was the complete setlist, as played:
Remember The Mountain Bed
—”Yankee Doodle” instrumental fragment—
Cars Can’t Escape
You And I
Far, Far Away
Muzzle Of Bees
Not For The Season
I’m Always In Love
new song-Born Alone
Forget The Flowers
Hummingbird (started and restarted)
I’m The Man Who Loves You
A Shot in the Arm
Walken (performed at edge of stage w/o PA system)
Dreamer In My Dreams (performed at edge of stage w/o PA system)
*Opening act: Snowblink