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Benefit Mon Feb 17 2014
This wasn't the first time I've set an alarm to buy Jeff Tweedy solo tickets for his show at the Vic.
The first time was way back yonder in 2009, where my 17-year-old self eagerly bought the tickets with my parents credit card at 10am on a Friday morning during Winter Break, only to be utterly devastated to find out -- after purchasing the tickets, of course -- that the show was 18 and up. My parents call it one of the best shows they have ever seen. I sulked for the entire week.
Five years later, I finally got my chance to redeem the follies of my teenage self. Seeing a solo Jeff Tweedy show has long been on my bucket list, with reason Numero Uno being that Jeff Tweedy is the ultimate Chicago hometown golden boy, andfrontman of what may be the Chicago-iest Chicago band in recent times: Wilco. Tweedy and co. are practically an institution at this point, and every year around this time, Tweedy plays a string of solo shows at the Vic to benefit an academic scholarship for the Montessori school his children attended. Tickets to the show weren't cheap -- they ranged from $75-$150, but hey, they're tax deductible... I think.
Steep price or not, the show was worth every penny. With hair like a mad scientist and an arsenal of acoustic guitars that rivaled Neil Young's (OK, a stretch, but it was an impressive array nonetheless), Tweedy played a set of deep cuts, covers, and die-hard favorites.
Wilco hometown shows are an experience to behold, so I tried to temper my expectations in advance. I knew Tweedy has a penchant for some of the quickest-witted crowd banter in the game, but banter a good show does not make. Except... sometimes it does.
I've heard Tweedy's rapport with crowds before, so I wasn't completely in the dark about his charisma and verbal adeptness, but I wasn't prepared in the slightest to be gripped the way I was. The guy is cool, possibly the coolest musician I have seen grace the stage in the past few years (and I see a lot of shows). Tweedy made the Vic feel like a living room -- he took requests from the first thirty people in line, he engaged with almost every cat-caller in audience, and lobbed witticisms left and right throughout the whole show.
"Is that a flash? I can't help but strike a pose when I see cameras," he deadpanned while displaying a ridiculous "Blue Steel" stare at the audience. "It's an illness."
I never thought I would be laughing more frequently than singing along at a Jeff Tweedy show. And that is not a complaint.
This show also differed from every show I've seen in the past four years in one beautiful and crucial way: There was a marked absence of smart phone usage. Perhaps this was because the audience skewed older (it was a charity benefit, after all), or maybe it was because Tweedy created such an intimate vibe, but for the first time in years, I wasn't struggling to see past some d-bag holding his phone like a torch in front of my head. There was almost complete silence in the audience during his set, allowing us to fully bask in the great acoustics of the Vic. It was truly an immersive experience, a concert the way concerts used to be.
The set list was entirely by request, which for any Tweedy-philes (hello, guilty as charged) meant a setlist so deep and varied that Wilco-nerd glee was inevitable. He played outtakes from Yankee Hotel Foxtrot that didn't make the album, he sang a haunting version of John Lennon's "God," he covered Revolver's "I'm Only Sleeping," and he grinned his way through a hilarious acoustic version of "Kicking Television." In short, the setlist was a dream, the show was a joy, and Tweedy is the man. Sorry Aloe Blacc.