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Jeff Tweedy — 23 March 2019, Chicago, IL (Vic Theatre) [Annual Charity Benefit; Night 2 of 2]


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These annual benefit shows have been happening for so long now that it's hard to imagine that most people don't know what to expect from Jeff when they come to one, even though he always issues a disclaimer near the top of his set warning any newcomers that that they are in for a grind because the majority of the songs he will play have been chosen by a "group of freaks" who wait in line all day. It's a tried-and-true formula for "a long and boring show," which probably secretly delights most serious fans.

 

"And it's for charity, so fuck you," Jeff said, half-jokingly. “(The people who choose the setlist) used to give me 30 songs, but some of those shows are still happening. Now they give me 20 songs so I can pepper in some of my showbiz experience, so we don't all kill ourselves."

 

The slightly jarring part for some attendees, even veteran ones, might just be how honest Jeff is with some of his banter at these shows. Of course it's almost always said with a slightly sarcastic and/or facetious tone, but there is also usually some underlying element to truth to what he says. So for example, when someone yelled out, "Rock and roll," Jeff replied by picking up his setlist from his side table and saying, "Rock and roll? I've got a clipboard, motherfucker." Or when some in the audience came in early with backing harmonies on Summer Teeth, he said, "Some of you didn't realize it doesn't happen until the third verse. Thankfully the real fans took over."

 

During Hummingbird, when someone began clapping in a distinctly annoying syncopation, Jeff initially joked about how that had been his trainer and as he geared up for the second leg of his Warm solo tour that he put someone in the audience to intentionally try and distract him at every turn. "It's like Navy SEALs training for singer-songwriters," Jeff said. "Of course that's all made up and I hope that person dies now. I hope they get sucked into the men's (room) hand dryer." Then when someone else yelled that he should write more songs like Hummingbird, Jeff deadpanned, "Thanks for reminding me of my dead father," referring to the tidbit in his book about what his father had said about the song. Then he did a little sarcastic soft-shoe jig and made another joke about how charity "is supposed to be painful."

 

Jeff's late father also came up on a couple of other occasions, including the introduction to the Warmer song Sick Server — which Jeff said he was playing live for just the second time. It was, Jeff said, "a song for my dad," and its lyrics, including the lovely chorus, "Dream with me, darling/Now the moment has passed," seem to suggest maybe it was a lullabye of sorts that Jeff had sung to his dad after had gotten sick. (And even though I had heard it before, a sincere thanks to Jeff for playing that as my request.) And I can't remember exactly what precipitated it, but shortly after playing Sick Server, Jeff also "conjured" both sides of his father by singing (I think?) the opening lyrics to the standard Smoke Gets In Your Eyes in a crooner's voice. And then in a gruff tone, "Now let's shut this place down." You probably had to be there, but it probably gave a good summation of the dual sides of Jeff's dad.

 

From a Banter Corner standpoint, this show featured much less in the way of funny exchanges between Jeff and his wife Susie via text message than the previous night. But there was at least one good bit when Jeff looked at his phone and shared a message that he had received while he had been playing Forget The Flowers: "Beee-hind." He immediately knew what she had been referring to, though he couldn't immediately come up with the lyric: "I left you behind/I know it's been a long time..." As he looked up toward her box, you could clearly hear Susie say that she was referring to how Jeff "put the emphasis on the wrong syllable" (which she pronounced "sill-ah-bull."). Again, maybe you had to be there but it was pretty funny.

 

Apprarently Jeff was doing a little bit too much talking because he later got what he called a "sad text" from his wife and remarked that "I guess I'm going to have to race through the rest of this set," and told the crowd that it would get out of the show "early enough to go out afterward." The pace of the show definitely picked up noticeably after that, with less tangents, as Jeff worked to get through all of the promised 30 songs in the set.

 

Musically speaking, these shows always feature too many highlights to mention because there are so many songs that you often don't get to hear (or don't get to hear in a solo acoustic setting). It almost depends on your personal preferences as to what songs make the most impact on you and stick in your memory. But I think I can fairly speak on behalf of most attendees that it was a treat when Jeff invited his friend and Tweedy band guitarist James Elkington on stage to join him for a couple of songs about two-thirds of the way into the show — Flowering (from the Sukierae record) and Love Like A Wire (a song by the late local songwriter Diane Izzo that had been a staple of Tweedy sets). Seeing the two duet on acoustic guitars was a nice surprise, especially getting to hear Elkington help fill out the songs with his distinctive guitar lines.

 

Personally for me, to mention just a couple of songs, it's always a treat to hear the Mavis Staples-vehicle Jesus Wept (good request, Joanne!) and I can't remember hearing Handshake Drugs solo with a harmonica very often. You really could single out any number of songs Jeff performed, even though I'm sure some folks would have preferred to hear some even more obscure ones.

 

Jeff was not even above out-and-out bribery to try and placate a guy named Gary who had apparently requested the very early Uncle Tupelo tune That Year. Jeff remarked that he had written that song on bass guitar and joked that it had been sung by "an adenoidal hillbilly character that I was workshopping." He offered the man a free T-shirt — a special shirt made just for these shows — and I secretly hoped that a T-shirt cannon would be produced to shoot the shirt up to him in the balcony. While that spectacle did not materialize, Jeff did try to honor the spirit of Gary's request by performing a rousing version of Gun as the penultimate song of the show.

 

I suppose that (and the set-ending Hoodoo Voodoo) was a fitting way to close out two nights of shows without a single repeat, and even though some might have been disappointed not to hear more old — or new — songs, Jeff stuck to his "program," even lightly chastising some audience members who yelled requests for songs he had played on Night 1 by saying that they should have come to both shows. You could look at that as a bit harsh for a performer to say, but what I sort of love about these shows is that the charity aspect allows Jeff to be brutally honest at times (and, as result, even funnier). Ha ha, indeed.

 

Here was the complete setlist, as played, for Night 2:

 

Via Chicago (w/harmonica)

Remember The Mountain Bed

I Am Trying To Break Your Heart

New Madrid

Having Been Is No Way To Be

Summer Teeth

Handshake Drugs (w/harmonica)

Jesus Wept

Hummingbird

Lost Love

Forget The Flowers

Sick Server

Pot Kettle Black

Kamera

Evergreen

The Family Gardener

Random Name Generator (fragment)

Magnetized

Flowering (w/James Elkington on acoustic guitar)

Love Like A Wire [Diane Izzo] (w/James Elkington on acoustic guitar)

Heavy Metal Drummer

Reservations

Hesitating Beauty

Jesus, etc.

Theologians

The Thanks I Get

Just A Kid

I'm A Wheel

--------------------------

Misunderstood

Gun

Hoodoo Voodoo

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What is sick server never heard that before? Good request liked the song. Also, thanks to Vince for just a kid and Gary (really wanted to hear that year that would have been great!) finally heard gun lol! Also, did people make request for yankee songs or were those Jeff’s picks? I’m surprised by how heavy the set was on yankee!

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Transcendent and amazing career spanning performance(s). Thank you, Jeff, for making me smile, laugh, cry, sing, and clap. Wonderful vibe,people, and venue. I am lifted, grateful; brimming with hope and love.

 

Just.....WOW.

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What is sick server never heard that before? Good request liked the song. Also, thanks to Vince for just a kid and Gary (really wanted to hear that year that would have been great!) finally heard gun lol! Also, did people make request for yankee songs or were those Jeff’s picks? I’m surprised by how heavy the set was on yankee!

 

Sick Server is a track off Warmer (see full report above). And I think a lot of people did request YHF songs that ended up being played, but Jeff definitely said he had added Kamera and Jesus, etc., himself.

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Sick Server is a track off Warmer (see full report above). And I think a lot of people did request YHF songs that ended up being played, but Jeff definitely said he had added Kamera and Jesus, etc., himself.

Ahh ok great show I’m glad I was finally able to make it to the benefit shows!

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Thanks for the recap, as always, P! I had to miss these shows last year, but was very happy to attend once again this weekend. While I hope there weren't too many disappointed numbers 21-30 in line, I thought it was a good strategy for Jeff to "reserve" 10 songs for himself each night. I always love hearing everyone's picks, including the ultra-obscure, but I think this allowed for more control over pacing and shaping the general trend of songs in one direction or another each evening. Thanks once again to Jeff and Susie for all they do, nap-powered or otherwise.

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Definitely qualified for a "Best Nova-Less Show" for me.  Great mix of songs, good crowd.  Sweet vibe through the whole night.

 

One thing that occurred to me today as I was thinking back and seeing all the posts was how much Jeff really seemed to be enjoying having Sue there.  This was maybe the first time that he's played these benefit shows immediately after being on the road, and it just seemed that he was really glad to have her in the room.  Maybe a little moreso in the Friday show, but both really.  Lots of the new songs are very personal / intimate about family, which led to lots of comments about Susie.  And other songs like Hate It Here (Susie says it's all a lie) and the Herman's Hermits ditty (prompted by "what's her favorite?") had comments about whether or not Susie liked that song or not, or something that prompted a snide text message later in the show.  But you could tell that he was glad to be home for a week, glad to be playing again in front of Susie and interacting all night with her, and happy to take the rest of us along for the ride.  That's part of what makes these shows such a delight to be a part of. 

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But you could tell that he was glad to be home for a week, glad to be playing again in front of Susie and interacting all night with her, and happy to take the rest of us along for the ride.  That's part of what makes these shows such a delight to be a part of. 

 

Well put, Vince. I tried to write about that a little bit in my report from Night 1 (available now...haha!). But I think what you wrote is definitely more than right on.

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