Chicago Wilco fans are a healthy breed. Predominantly males over six feet tall who obviously drank their milk when they were kids. Good Midwestern stock. They take up a lot of space. And at a show as oversold as Wednesday night’s at the Vic, every inch of space counts.
I was feeling grouchy and preparing myself to be disappointed since there was no way I was going to be able to see the stage. I was down on the floor, trying hard to pretend this was a small venue like the Lounge Ax. I figured if I got close enough to the front, it wouldn’t seem like there were quite so many people there. But that’s just dumb. The people with the best seats were the lucky bastards in the front row of the balcony. When the first strums of “Airline to Heaven” started, I strained my neck and stood on my toes, and caught a glimpse of one of my favorite musicians in the world, alone on stage with an acoustic guitar, singing one of my favorite songs. Everything was going to be okay.
Up in the mezzanine side boxes, people were seated comfortably with an excellent view. I coveted their seats. What have they got that I ain’t got, I asked myself? Well, for one thing, they’ve got a son named Jeff Tweedy who had sold out three nights at the 1,200+ capacity Vic Theatre. It’s true. Tweedy’s parents were in attendance, and you’d be surprised how much his dad looks like him. Same exact mouth.
Although I bet his dad’s mouth isn’t as filthy as his son’s, who dedicated the new song, “Millionaire,” to his mom (“I’ll play this song because my mom’s here tonight…”) before he sang the opening lines, “I wish I could fuck you like he thinks he does / before he falls asleep.” He struggled with finding the right key and had to restart the song a few times, proving, he joked, that he really shouldn’t play that song in front of his mother. For his dad, he played “Casino Queen” and sang the low harmony part throughout the song, an interesting touch.
Tweedy was in great spirits, encouraging the crowd to smoke marijuana since people who smoked pot were so easy to please. “My mom doesn’t care if you smoke pot…as long as I don’t smoke pot.” Not once did he chide the audience for talking, like he does on every solo acoustic bootleg show I’ve ever heard. Speaking of, he shared his intense fear of having someone compile all the stupid shit he’s said between songs onto one cd. He was making fun of the trading community in the crowd, obviously, but the funny thing is that I betcha anything that he got that idea because he owns the bootleg that compiles all of Neil Young’s between-song comments. It exists. Be afraid. But remember that Tweedy’s as big a music geek as anyone you know. (Whatever helps you live with yourself, I know, I know.)
Highlights included tender renderings of “Jesus, etc.,” “Someday, Some Morning, Sometime,” “In The Future Age,” and Golden Smog’s “Please Tell My Brother,” which—if I’m not mistaken—got him a little choked up with the lines, “Please tell my mother I miss her the most / And as I travel from coast to coast / I feel your love and I feel your ghost.” Maybe that was me who was a little choked up, but Tweedy was the one wiping his eyes afterwards. If he really wanted to kill me, he would’ve followed that up with “When the Roses Bloom Again,” but it wasn’t to be.
He seemed surprised by how few hands were raised when he asked who had been there for the previous show on Monday night. He was really trying to vary the setlists so the freaks who go to all three shows get to hear a bunch of different songs. This resulted in us getting to hear some great, rare performances, but I bet some of the crowd was sorry they happened to be at the one Wilco/Tweedy event in the past five years where they did not play “California Stars.” To make up for it, I guess, he played the “Red-Eyed & Blue / I Got You” medley that seems to find its way onto almost every setlist. But really, the song collection cannot be criticized; it was fucking perfect.
The word on the street is that Thursday’s show was even better with a guest appearance by the rest of his band. That sounds like a fun surprise, but I’ve seen Wilco plenty of times. This was my first Tweedy solo show, and I’m thrilled to have finally gotten to see him just like that. Wednesday night reaffirmed my faith in the value of standing around in a dense, uncomfortable crowd for rock and roll. Sometimes the magic makes it through, and it came through loud and clear at the Vic this week.