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Jeff Tweedy — 18 April 2019, Champaign, IL (Virginia Theatre)


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The story was writing itself quite nicely: After two nights of relative bedlam, Jeff closed out a long run of solo acoustic performances in support of Warm (and Warmer) by returning to his home state and putting on a solid show for a respectful audience. Back in the familiar confines of a darkened theater, Jeff was able to return to his usual unplugged setup and got to play some of the quieter, sadder songs that he hadn't been able to in the more "festive" atmospheres of the previous evenings.

 

Of course, given some of the weird things that have happened on this tour, you knew things would probably somehow go askew before it was over. But even I didn't foresee how this one would end...

 

Jeff had been more or less cruising along, seeming a little more in a mood to talk than play — if I'm being honest — and gearing up for a strong finish to his main set after playing a crowd-pleasing Passenger Side when a woman in the (I think) balcony shouted, "Play one for Jay Bennett!" Just the mere mention of the longtime Champaign-Urbana resident and ex-Wilco member's name sent a bit of a murmur through the crowd, but Jeff initially appeared to be unfazed. "I think everywhere I play there's a little bit of Jay Bennett," he said. Then a man in the front row said (or asked) something about Jay being a drummer and Jeff had to correct him.

 

But then another loud-voiced lady also in the front row continued the "conversation," suggesting that Jeff "play something Jay would have liked." That seemed to set Jeff off a bit, and he started to lose control a bit. "He was my friend, and I think it's kind of hurtful (to suggest he wasn't)," Jeff said. "I know he meant a lot to this community; he meant a lot to me. What would you like me to play for Jay?" Someone yelled out My Darling, which Jeff admitted he didn't know how to play very well. Eventually he settled on California Stars — for which he said he and Jay had written the music together — and that seemed to placate the crowd, with some even giving him a standing ovation after that.

 

If things had simply ended there, maybe the show would have still concluded on a good note. But after California Stars, Jeff unintentionally reignited things when he tried to apologize for the previous exchange. "Sorry if I was awkward there, but that sort of (took me aback)," Jeff said. "He was my friend, and we weren't on the best terms when he died and I feel awful about that." Then Jeff added that he hoped that people had gone to see Jay perform when he was alive — which the loud-voiced lady in the front row seemed to misconstrue as going to see Jay when he had played with either Jeff or Wilco because she mentioned Harper College, where Jeff and Jay played a duo show in 1999 and Wilco played in 1997 — because, according to Jeff, that had been a source of pain for Jay when he was alive. "(Not feeling supported) made him feel alone," Jeff said.

 

In response to that, a woman could clearly be heard saying in a defensive tone, "Oh, blame us." Jeff certainly heard her, because he said he did blame some of them. "A lot of people that talk about (Jay) didn't support him when he was alive," Jeff said. (There were some shouts of encouragement from the crowd during all of this. I heard one guy yell, "You weren't responsible," for instance.) But basically the damage had been done, with Jeff mumbling something to the effect of, "This has been a great night, a great way to end the tour," and going into I'm The Man Who Loves You. Before long, he was waving goodnight and walking off stage.

 

I wouldn't have blamed Jeff if he didn't come back out for an encore after all that, but in professional fashion he did re-emerge for a couple more songs, including an emphatic The Late Greats. It wasn't very long, however, before he was off stage again — for good this time — and the house lights were up. Clearly the exchanges about Bennett had completely changed the vibe in the room, and Jeff once again got that look when he goes from feeling pretty comfortable and in a relaxed state to wanting to finish up and get off stage as quickly as he can.

 

It's too bad, because up to that point, Jeff had been a veritable chatty Cathy. He got a lot of mileage out of contrasting this final show with the previous two nights in Louisville and Cincinnati, where he joked that he "had to dig deep in my bag of celebratory, festive songs, which isn't very deep anyway, and it wore me out. Last night (in Cincinnati) was like a wedding I wasn't invited to, like a guy with an acoustic guitar who nobody knew just showed up." He also mentioned how he had just gotten over a bad case of food poisoning and how he had been "in serious danger of of shitting my pants on stage for a solid week. This is the last night of the tour, and I am out of (clean) underwear."

 

After Guaranteed, which Jeff said was on Warmer, a guy in the crowd urged Jeff to "make more copies, please." Jeff said he didn't know if he (alone) could do that, but then conceded that "it'll eventually come out on other formats." Jeff added that it's "a really weird business because you make a lot of records and nobody buys them and (covers the cost of what) you've paid to make them, but you make a tiny amount of records and people get pissed."

 

Anyway, there were definitely a few more visits to Banter Corner that don't seem as significant or necessary to recount here now in light of how this particular show ended. It's a shame that things ended on a somewhat awkward note, but that doesn't take away from a run that I will remember for always keeping me on my toes (and on the move) and reminding me why it's rewarding to get a chance to see an artist like Jeff play multiple shows on a tour. It's been a fun journey, especially getting to connect and reconnect with so many friends — old and new — over the course of the past six weeks or so. I don't know when I'll get to hear Jeff play some of these Open Kimono, er, Warm and Warmer songs again in person, but I hope it's sooner than later.

 

Here was the complete setlist, as played, in Champaign:

 

Via Chicago (w/harmonica)

Bombs Above

Some Birds

I Am Trying To Break Your Heart

Having Been Is No Way To Be

Family Ghost

Impossible Germany

New Madrid

I Know What It's Like

Ashes Of American Flags

Dawned On Me

Guaranteed

Jesus, etc.

Let's Go Rain

Gun

Passenger Side

California Stars

I'm The Man Who Loves You

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

Don't Forget

The Late Greats

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Wow, those Jay Bennett exchanges are something else. The nerve of these people.

 

Paul, thank you for your recaps and thanks to all the others who chimed in as well. This has been an interesting tour to read about. Are you going to Europe for the Wilco shows this summer/fall??

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Paul:  Among many i am so very grateful for your earnest and stellar reporting of the shows you attend. Your reviews/recaps really fill the void of not be able to attend in person and always convey a real and honest sense of the performance, venue, crowd and vibe. Thanks so much for always taking the time and energy to do so, it is so very much appreciated and a quality/fun read even about the shows i do make it to!  Look forward to seeing you down the road as the Wilco wheels start to turn. 

 

Steve 

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Great recap by Paul as usual. I was happy to be able to make this last show of the tour. The Warm/Warmer songs might not get played in any serious way for a while and they are too good not to make the drive. 

 

The observation about Jeff seeming happier to talk than play is on point, but when he played he hit his marks. His guitar playing was incredible, he nailed all the lyrics and, even while professing to have caught a cold that day, you couldn't hear it in his voice. While this tour may have been long, a well rehearsed Jeff is a real treat to see. There just aren't many performers at this caliber.

 

We heard some nice seldom played solo songs like Dawned, Ashes, and Impossible even if those, especially the latter, are frequently on a Wilco setlist. My 33rd proper Jeff solo show and the first time I've seen him do Impossible Germany solo for example. On each, there was an amused look on Jeff's face when he was approaching the Nels Cline guitar takeover part of the song which I really enjoyed observing.

 

I think the 'send more Warmer records', while likely said with the best of intentions, moved Jeff into the a less positive head space. I don't get yelling out "Jay Bennett" at a show, but half of that interaction "was you, half was me" - Jeff had 99% of the audience on his side and it is too bad that a few comments took the atmosphere to a real low.

 

One line in Jeff's songs that always hits me is: "The best life never leaves your lungs" and I think that was a good way to end a tour in Jay's hometown and in support of two fantastic records heavy on mortality lyrics.

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Paul:  Among many i am so very grateful for your earnest and stellar reporting of the shows you attend. Your reviews/recaps really fill the void of not be able to attend in person and always convey a real and honest sense of the performance, venue, crowd and vibe. Thanks so much for always taking the time and energy to do so, it is so very much appreciated and a quality/fun read even about the shows i do make it to!  Look forward to seeing you down the road as the Wilco wheels start to turn. 

 

Steve 

I want to echo this! I go t to meet bbop at the Cincinnati show Wednesday night and as it turns out I was sitting a row in front of him. I have been reading and appreciating his reviews for years. I always assumed he was a guitar tech or someone working for the band as the only way to explain the logistics of being at these shows. I really enjoyed looking over my shoulder after one of Jeff's trademark deadpan "zingers", dad jokes or backhanded compliments  to see bbop vigorously jotting notes and grinning. I kinda felt like I got to look behind the curtain for an evening. Thanks to bbop for providing us with all of this insight over the years. 

 

As far as unsolicited audience participation I feel like Jeff gets a ton of this. That shit with talking about Jay Bennett to me is way over the line, like walk off stage over the line. I don't know if Jeff gets so much of this because the relatively intimate venues he performs at when solo or the comfort level a lot of his fans have with him but it seems to be almost an unfortunate staple of his solo shows anymore. Pretty sure the girl who put her Converse onthe stage in Cincinnati is not getting away with that at a Henry Rollins show. Also,  I can't believe adults still yell out song requests at a solo guy on stage and expect them to play it. 

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Paul:  Among many i am so very grateful for your earnest and stellar reporting of the shows you attend. Your reviews/recaps really fill the void of not be able to attend in person and always convey a real and honest sense of the performance, venue, crowd and vibe. Thanks so much for always taking the time and energy to do so, it is so very much appreciated and a quality/fun read even about the shows i do make it to!  Look forward to seeing you down the road as the Wilco wheels start to turn. 

 

Steve 

Ditto.

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At the Louisville show, after seeing theashtraysays was also keeping track of setlist and banter quotes, I asked him (in between tunes of course lol) if he was taking bbop's place, he said, "Nah. He's sturdy".

I was at the solo Springfield show where the guy jumped on stage and put Jeff in a neck-hold. I was also at the KC solo show where a dude heckled him about Bennett. It's abuse, and those of us who care about him feel quite protective of our humans, or ANY beings being abused. Pretty sure it would suck to have a stranger shouting at me, sick, in my work place about an intimate friend now dead. But Jeff, he's sturdy. 

 

Thanks bbop, for also being sturdy.

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At the Louisville show, after seeing theashtraysays was also keeping track of setlist and banter quotes, I asked him (in between tunes of course lol) if he was taking bbop's place, he said, "Nah. He's sturdy".

.

I’m pretty sure the word was “studly”.

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Wow, those Jay Bennett exchanges are something else. The nerve of these people.

 

Paul, thank you for your recaps and thanks to all the others who chimed in as well. This has been an interesting tour to read about. Are you going to Europe for the Wilco shows this summer/fall??

Thanks for reading! And yes I am planning to go to Europe for some of the Wilco shows in June and September. :usa

So the final three shows progressed kinda like this?

Weird (Fun!) --> Weird (Just Weird) --> Weird (Trainwreck)

 

Oh, and for sure I echo the sentiment on appreciating the bbop recaps. Always a pleasure. And way harder than it looks.

Yeah, that's pretty much it. I like those recaps! Maybe I'll skip all the drivel and just boil each show down to its essence from now on... :lol

I also want to echo all the thanks Paul for your wonderful recaps, I love reading them. I'll be attending all the upcoming solo Australian shows and I'll do my best to provide as good and detailed recounts as I can!

Thanks for following along with my blatherings! I sure wish I could get Down Under for the run of shows coming up next month, but I'll certainly be looking forward to reading about them from your perspective (and others' as well). :thumbup
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Paul:  Among many i am so very grateful for your earnest and stellar reporting of the shows you attend. Your reviews/recaps really fill the void of not be able to attend in person and always convey a real and honest sense of the performance, venue, crowd and vibe. Thanks so much for always taking the time and energy to do so, it is so very much appreciated and a quality/fun read even about the shows i do make it to!  Look forward to seeing you down the road as the Wilco wheels start to turn. 

 

Steve 

 

Hey Steve, thanks a lot for the kind words! I'm glad to play some small part in helping people who can't make it to shows feel like they're still able to keep up with what Jeff is up to. See you again before long, I'm sure.

 

Great recap by Paul as usual. I was happy to be able to make this last show of the tour. The Warm/Warmer songs might not get played in any serious way for a while and they are too good not to make the drive.

 

Great to see you, man! Weird night, but thanks for the perspective vis a vis the Warm/Warmer material. You're right — you've got to take the opportunity to see these shows while you can.

 

I want to echo this! I go t to meet bbop at the Cincinnati show Wednesday night and as it turns out I was sitting a row in front of him. I have been reading and appreciating his reviews for years. I always assumed he was a guitar tech or someone working for the band as the only way to explain the logistics of being at these shows. I really enjoyed looking over my shoulder after one of Jeff's trademark deadpan "zingers", dad jokes or backhanded compliments  to see bbop vigorously jotting notes and grinning. I kinda felt like I got to look behind the curtain for an evening. Thanks to bbop for providing us with all of this insight over the years.

 

Hey, really nice to meet you man! I appreciate the kind words, and thanks a lot for reading my drivel over the years. Hope to get back to another (slightly less weird, maybe) show in Cincinnati sometime soon... :wave

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I was at the show and I'm still shaken/seething from that person in the front row. The initial request to play something for Jay was ... tone-deaf. But to keep badgering Jeff about it was just awful. It didn't do anything to honor Jay's memory - just dredged up the bad stuff. 

Thanks for the update, Paul. I was 11th row, center, and couldn't hear what the woman in the front was saying. From Jeff's answers I assumed she was clueless and had no idea what was being discussed. The person who yelled the initial request was sitting fairly close to me. And some dude behind me kept yelling, "Jay Farrar!" over and over. To which I wonder why these people even bothered to buy tickets. 

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Glad to find other people who love Wilco and Jeff Tweedy as much as (and probably more than) I do.

I was at the show at Virginia Theater and was thoroughly enjoying myself. Bought tickets for my oldest son and myself. We were one of a hundred or so in the balcony.

 

I was appalled by the behavior of several fans. I won't go so far as to say they ruined the experience for me, but they did for Jeff and what started as a personal, intimate show ended as something where you could tell he just wanted to GTFO of Champaign. It really sucked that the banter reached that level of disrespect.

In my younger days I was one of those guys on the fringe of Jay's awareness. Like ... I saw him at a gas station once shortly after he joined Wilco and he remembered my name. And I think that was actually the last time I ever saw him. My son, the one who was at the show with me, was born about a year after running into Jay.

Anyway, I kind of knew him and the rest of his old band Titanic Love Affair. Bought my first drumset from TLA's drummer, Mike Hazelrigg. Ran into their old bassist last night at a grocery store and we stopped and talked for about 10 minutes. He recalled my fascination with Jay's guitar work on one of their albums and said he'd just been thinking about that conversation, which is wild, because it must have happened about 30 years ago!

I brought up the Virginia show to him and he didn't really want to talk about Wilco or Jeff Tweedy. That's pretty much the same sentiment that many around here have. There's respect for Tweedy but still a lot of hurt feelings and even some blame for reasons I don't really understand. There are still, after all these years, some really hard feelings.

Fortunately / unfortunately I have the luxury of having missed all of that as I was relatively unaware of anything Wilco and/or Jay Bennett was doing from, like 1996 through about 2009, when I "discovered" Sky Blue Sky and it quickly became one of my favorite records. Of course I had heard about Jay's passing prior to that but I never sought out his or Wilco's stuff until I happened across a friend's mp3 library and started listening. Since then they've been my go-to music. I haven't watched the documentary and I don't think I want to. Maybe I will someday. I don't know. 

I always had very fond memories of Jay and the rest of TLA. And Wilco has become my favorite band and Tweedy my favorite song-writer / performer. I wish things hadn't ended the way they did and that Jeff and Jay could have found a way to continue to work together. I really think they made each other better. Being There and Summerteeth are true gems and I think they're that way because of the work Tweedy and Bennett did together.

 

Also, for what's it's worth, having known and been familiar with Jay's guitar playing and some of the melodies he came up with, you can still hear his fingerprints all over A Ghost Is Born, specifically At Least That's What You Said and Spiders. In fact, both of those songs have the most Bennett-like sounds of anything I've heard from Bennett's playing on their 3 previous albums and Mermaid Avenue.

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