ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON THE LINE OF BEST FIT
For an 18-year old drummer on his way to university, Spencer Tweedy has already generated plenty of column inches. But the most interesting words to be found about his fledgling musical career come from Spencer himself. “I am in a boy band called Tweedy,” he wrote on his Tumblr blog in April, heralding the eponymous band he’s started with is celebrated father Jeff.
Other comments are more gushing. “Dave Itzkoff wrote a really nice piece aboutSukierae in the New York Times (!!!),”wrote a clearly delighted Spencer upon the album’s release. “My dad and I did a Tiny Desk concert at NPR Music!” was an excited comment from October. The archive helps paint a picture of a humble and honoured kid who is, unsurprisingly, ecstatic to be on the road with Jeff Tweedy – even if Jeff so happens to be his father.
And so, as father and son take the stage in the grand surrounds of the Palladium tonight it’s interesting to see the dynamic. Spencer has big shoes to fill, given his father’s dalliances with sticks-men extraordinaire Jim O’Rourke and Glenn Kotche over the years. His drumming style is loose and simple. A couple of nice solos (which raise a cheer) on “Summer Noon” aside, he seems happy to play it straight and provide support to his father’s more prominent and (tonight at least) engaging stage presence.
Jeff, for his part, tries to play the part of embarrassing father on a number of occasions: asking the boy of his views on a woman in the crowd who is determined to take Tweedy Snr home with her, and threatening to burst out a cover from theLion King soundtrack, holding Spencer in the air – Simba style. But the pair coalesce well, adding to a familial atmosphere as they chug through their debut album over the first half of the show.
As a record, Sukierae is pleasant and bears most of the hallmarks of a Wilco release, without ever really scaling their loftiest heights. “World Away”, with its stuttering drumbeat and psych guitar riff outro, could have been lifted from the Whole Love (as could the excellent “Fake Fur Coat”, which recalls the marauding “Art of Almost”).
Miller Tweedy, Jeff’s wife and Spencer’s mother, has suffered in recent months from lymphoma and the illness has clearly been borne out in some of the band’s lyrics. Some are defiant (see opening number “Nobody Dies Anymore”) while others are more maudlin. “One day I’ll be your burden and you’ll be my wife,” sings Jeff on “New Moon”. But having both men on stage adds a sense of poignancy to the joviality that permeates the rest of the show.
The band – Spencer plus three – depart, with father embracing son, at the halfway mark to make way for an album’s worth of solo acoustic stuff from Jeff. And it’s over the guts of an hour that the Wilco frontman reminds us that he is one of the finest (and perhaps most underrated) songwriters of the past couple of generations. Tweedy is a hopeless romantic, a jealous lover, a scorned ex and a weary world-watcher.
Goosebumps set in as the lights go down and the first chord of “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart” reverberate around the theatre. They remain until the last bars of “Shot in the Arm” – from the incredible Summerteeth – ring out to an audience that has just been treated to 12 performances of exceptional quality. There are moments of sublime poetry. You get the sense that nobody waves goodbye quite like Jeff Tweedy, when he sings on “One Wing”, from Wilco’s underrated self-titled album: “One Wing will never fly/Neither yours nor mine/I fear we can only wave goodbye.”
Wilco long outgrew the alt-country moniker, but on Please Tell My Brother (originally by the Midwest super group Golden Smog that Tweedy was in with members of The Replacements, Big Star and the Jayhawks) and Uncle Tupelo’s New Madrid there are nods to the indelible mark the genre has left on Tweedy’s musical palate.
The band return for the encore, which includes a couple of Mavis Staples numbers, written by Jeff Tweedy, and “California Stars”, the Woody Guthrie track brought to life by Billy Bragg and Wilco on Mermaid Avenue all those years ago. During the latter, Tweedy takes a step back and smiles as he watches his lead guitarist and drummer trade solos, beaming with what seems to be a mixture of pride and satisfaction. There have been many stages in Jeff Tweedy’s life and innumerate strands to his complex character. But tonight we’ve been treated to him at his best: the father and the tastemaker. The man who creates the kind of music most of the world can only ever aspire to. And it was a joy to behold.