Jeff Tweedy starting his new solo tour in Kansas City was puzzling. It was essentially a west coast tour; he played Kansas City, Denver and then the rest was the on the coast. Kansas City didn’t sell out like many venues the size of the Uptown Theater would have so it was baffling; maybe Tweedy used it as a practice date. I don’t know but I saw it as an opportunity to see one of the most important musicians to me in my lifetime.
A comedian opened which is always weird for me. I don’t dislike stand-up comedy but I am a music person so I’d always rather see a really good musician I’ve never heard of than a comedian. That being said, the opening act was funny and entertaining; more than can be said about many opening bands that I have seen.
If you’ve never been to The Uptown Theater in Kansas City allow me to briefly explain the place. It is the theater of theaters. It is a model of extravagance with all the unnecessary bells and whistles that make venues look cool while serving no purpose. While the brightly painted indoor architecture was cool to look at, it is very much for show and none of it seems utilitarian. I’m not a big fan of theaters like this but it serves fine for a show this size. You couldn’t pack this crowd in a dive bar with band stickers all over the walls so this worked, even though walls covered in band stickers would likely have been just as beautiful and breathtaking as the expensive structures adorning the walls here to me.
Jeff Tweedy would take the stage at 9:00 because let’s face it; he is getting old like most of his crowd and being on your way home from the show on a weeknight gets us as excited as partying these days. Seeing the Wilco frontman performing solo in front of a theater full of people made me think that it was like seeing this generation’s Bob Dylan. I know that is cliche as hell but in all seriousness who fits the bill better? This perception would never be more clear than on “Sunken Treasure” when Tweedy would confidently strum his acoustic guitar and occasionally blow into the harmonica around his neck.
Much to my delight he would revisit the brilliant Yankee Hotel Foxtrot several times during his 22 song set starting with a starkly intimate version of “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart.” It is difficult to describe exactly what that album means to me and the feeling of joy when I would identify a song as one from that release. It is quite simply put the best album recorded in my lifetime I feel so I really have a kinship to it. This made hearing “Kamera” “Radio Cure” and the crowd favorite “Jesus Etc” all that much more thrilling. Other than that the setlist would be a fair smattering from his recorded career with songs you would expect and some that were shocking. He would even preface “Radio Cure” by admitting that some songs in this stripped down arrangement would sound like shit, he may have felt that way but the nearly sold out theater likely disagreed.
“Sunken Treasure” was perfect song for the evening and one of the deepest cuts was the Golden Smog’s “Long Time Ago” that Tweedy had penned as he did every song he would sing on this night. For a writer like Tweedy why would I want to see him sing something someone else wrote anyway? From the seemingly half written “Bob Dylan’s 49th Beard” to the meticulous, radio worthy “Shot In The Arm” he is flat out a fantastic songwriter. He is a great performer and amazingly captured as many laughs from the crowd as the opening comedian. He is also fragile and defensive as he looks out at the crowd of loyal followers almost seeming skeptical of them all. His performance on this night would be very good but not amazing; he wouldn’t blow anyone away but did all he could do as a solo acoustic act. He just came on stage to sing songs, no theatrics, no frills, tricks or distractions; just music.
Closing his regular set with “Not For The Season” complete with some botched lyrics completed a bit of an odd set that included two songs from the obscure side-project Loose Fur and a mix of songs ranging from funny, like “Passenger Side” to delicate, like “One True Vine.” The encore would be more predictable and crowd pleasing (although the crowd loved the first set as well.) He would hit his legendary former band Uncle Tupelo’s catalog up for a couple songs in “New Madrid” and “Acuff Rose” and also add his sing-along anthem “California Stars.” The obscure but still brilliant “The Thanks I Get” would be known by much of the crowd much to my surprise as Tweedy would have some fun with the call and response portion of the song. Some obnoxious off-beat clapping filled the balcony but it would fail to ruin the song. For the finally, Uncle Tupelo’s “Acuff Rose,” Tweedy would leave his acoustic guitar unplugged and walk to the front of the stage and comment about how Kanye may be a genius but if the power goes out his show is over and Tweedy’s would go on. He would loudly strum and sing the song free of electronic aid and the crowd, who was predominately quiet and patient the whole night, would once again allow him to be heard.
Jeff Tweedy setlist from the Uptown Theater in Kansas City, MO 12/3/13:
- I Am Trying To Break Your Heart
- Remember The Mountain Bed
- Sunken Treasure
- Long Time Ago (Golden Smog song)
- Passenger Side
- Dawned On Me
- Radio Cure
- Chinese Apple (Loose Fur song)
- One True Vine
- Ruling Class (Loose Fur song)
- You And I
- Bob Dylan’s 49th Beard
- Jesus Etc.
- Born Alone
- Not For The Season
- New Madrid (Uncle Tupelo song)
- California Stars
- The Thanks I Get
- Shot In The Arm
- Acuff Rose (Uncle Tupelo song)