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Jeff Tweedy — 18 September 2020, McHenry, IL (McHenry Outdoor Theatre)

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Well, it's been a minute since I've been on here — and certainly since I've written one of these — so please forgive the rustiness in advance. Anyway, I'm sure that most everybody who would probably even care about these thoughts either watched the show for themselves via live stream or was there in person so obviously it will be interesting to hear some different perspectives.

 

After months and months of spending virtual evenings with the Tweedy family via The Tweedy Show on Instagram and getting to hear just about all of the songs that would eventually comprise Jeff's forthcoming “solo” record Love Is The King, it was a pleasure to finally be able to see some of those new songs performed live on stage for the first time, and with the backing of a full band to boot. (And not to fear, nearly all of the significant characters — including Basil — from The Tweedy Show were in attendance, either on stage or in the front row!)

 

Even if the setting wasn't the warm, cozy environs of the Tweedys' living room but instead a chilly evening at a drive-in movie theater out in the distant reaches of Chicagoland with all of the requisite elements of pandemic life — mandatory face coverings, social distancing and other limitations in the name of safety — I think it's safe to say that just about everyone who made it out to the McHenry Outdoor Theatre was glad to, as Jeff said, leave their troubles behind for a couple of hours and bask in the power of live music again. I know I was. Not even the very sad news about the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, which broke just before show time, could entirely dim the show's glow.

 

Since it was the start of Rosh Hashanah, it wasn't surprising to see the evening begin with Mi Sheibarach, a Jewish prayer for healing adapted into song by Debbie Friedman that has become a fixture on The Tweedy Show with Sammy Tweedy singing the lead vocal and accompanied by Jeff and Spencer Tweedy on guitar and backing vocals, respectively. Especially in light of Ginsburg's death, I thought it was an especially poignant way to start.

 

From there, the full Tweedy band emerged with Spencer on drums, James Elkington on electric guitar and pedal steel, Liam Kazar on bass and backing vocals and Liam's older sister, Sima Cunningham of Ohmme, on backing vocals along with Sammy. The sextet ran through a few tunes from Jeff's earlier solo albums Warm and Sukierae before getting to the first LITK song, the lilting love song Guess Again. By the end of the night, the group would perform over half the record; to me, the twangy Opaline and the show-closing Save It For Me were particular standouts, with Jeff commenting about the latter that it was the "most meaningful" to him right now because it was the first song that he wrote with Spencer and Sammy during the quarantine and making the album had helped them all get through those tough times.

 

Another highlight, for me at least, was the band's performance of Pops Staples' Friendship during the cover-laden final third of the show. Of course, the message of the song is touching in and of itself but also the arrangement of the song with Sammy taking the first verse, Spencer the second and Sima the third kind of reminded me a bit of The Weight in that it allowed them to each get their own moment in the vocal spotlight.

 

So what was it like to actually attend the show? I think that might depend pretty significantly on your vantage point within the parking lot. There were four tiers of tickets sold, from VIP tickets in the first two rows to "back lot" tickets at, well, the very back. This was my first time at a drive-in concert so I don't really have a point of comparison and I wasn't able to check out the view from way back, but I can't imagine it was very good even with two giant video screens flanking the stage. Someone else will have to chime in with their take.

 

I will say that even in the very front there was a sizable gap between the stage and the first row of the audience — probably at least 30 feet. So you can definitely insert a Too Far Apart joke here because, even at the front, it felt like there was a lack of real connection between band and crowd due to the sheer distance between them. (I think Jeff even made a brief comment/joke about feeling less of a connection than usual and how "the cars aren't giving me a lot" and then calling himself "pathetic" for asking for some validation from the assembled autos). And being outside, socially distanced, in such a relatively big open-air space really prevented any real crowd roar that made you feel like you were part of a larger whole the way you might inside a club or theater. I definitely missed that element of the live music experience. After the band would finish a song, you would hear what Jeff might call "a smattering" of applause or whatever, but it wasn't quite the same for me.

 

On the positive side, I thought the sound quality was pretty excellent throughout. From where I was, the venue's PA system was nice and powerful — again, I can't say for sure that was true further back in the lot — and actually the distance we all had to stand back from the stage almost certainly helped us hear everything better. Elkington's guitar (and pedal steel), I felt, really stood out in the mix and definitely enhanced many of the songs.

 

You knew at the very least that the sheer novelty of the drive-in show concept would result in some funny stage banter, and Jeff didn't disappoint in that regard. I didn't jot down any particular zinger in its entirety — I said I was rusty! — but he did joke early on about how we were going to "have a honkalong" at some point and "separate the Subarus out." "I don't know why," Jeff said of the Subarus. "Just because I'm assuming there are too many out there." Later he remarked about how he had had a daydream about orchestrating a honking part of a song before deciding that would be a stupid idea. Instead, he discouraged people from using their horns during the show to display enthusiasm — until the end when they should "just go fucking nuts."

 

If this was the last time we'll get to see and hear Jeff perform live in 2020, then to use one of his favorite expressions, it certainly could have been worse. After so many months without live music, the fact that we even got this nearly two-hour show deserves a measure of gratitude. Was it everything I could have asked for in a concert? Probably not. Was it more than acceptable, especially when graded on the pandemic curve? For sure. Was it exactly what I needed right now, heading into an uncertain future? Most definitely.

 

Here was the complete setlist, as played (all songs with core Tweedy band of Jeff Tweedy on acoustic guitar and vocals, James Elkington on electric and pedal steel guitar, Liam Kazar on bass and backing vocals and Spencer Tweedy on drums and backing vocals, unless otherwise noted):

 

Mi Sheibarach^ [Debbie Friedman]

Bombs Above*

Some Birds*

New Moon*

Guess Again*

Family Ghost

Bad Day Lately

Flowering

Summer Noon#

Gwendolyn*

Opaline*

Evergreen*

Don't Forget

Having Been Is No Way To Be

Guaranteed

Low Key@

I Know What It's Like*

Natural Disaster*

Love Like A Wire [Diane Izzo]

Let's Go Rain*

The Old Country Waltz* [Neil Young]

The Losing End (When You're On)* [Neil Young]

Friendship$ [Pops Staples]

I Wanna Be Your Mama Again* [sir Douglas Quintet]

Give Back The Key To My Heart* [Doug Sahm]

You Are Not Alone*

California Stars*

Save It For Me*

 

^ — Sammy Tweedy on lead vocals, Spencer Tweedy on backing vocals

* — Sima Cunningham and Sammy Tweedy on backing vocals

# — Sammy Tweedy on backing vocals

@ — Sima Cunningham on backing vocals

$ — Sammy Tweedy, Spencer Tweedy and Sima Cunningham on vocals

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I was in the second to last row (just happy to be there!) and was pleasantly surprised at the sound quality and the sight lines. It wasn’t loud enough that I used my earplugs, but it was still plenty loud and clear. The view was like watching the band from the lawn at a big shed, which while not at all what I’m used to for a Tweedy/Wilco show, still felt familiar. All in all it was a great experience. I thought Opaline and Natural Disaster were absolutely awesome and Old Country Waltz was a fantastic surprise and they nailed it. My only regret is that I missed 80% of Save it for Me since I figured there was no way they wouldn’t end with California Stars and I didn’t want to get stuck in the lot for an hour ☹️. Wish they were doing two nights like Billy Strings and TBT!

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I'm sure that most everybody who would probably even care about these thoughts either watched the show for themselves via live stream or was there in person so obviously.

 

Not me - I only rely on you, and I wouldn't want it any other way.

Ta.

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It’s truly excellent to see a report from Paul in this space. It was a terrific show that I enjoyed from the comfort of my living room.

 

Someone over in the FB group snagged a setlist and it had Ten Sentences in between Having Been Is No Way To Be & Guaranteed. That was the only difference.

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It was a very special evening being able to see Jeff and family singing to us loudly again! That said, with the devastating news prior to the show coupled with five months of Covid coping, the entire experience was an emotional rollercoaster. It was a celebration full of mourning and fear of the unknown. The music itself was fantastic and Jeff was in great voice. The entire time I felt shear gratitude, even more then I unusually do during my many other Jeff/Wilco encounters. This one felt so very different for so many reasons that I’m honestly still processing it. Big thanks to the Tweedy family and all involved for making this night a reality. It was clearly much needed and appreciated by everyone there. Now we fight on.

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Certainly a delightful evening, and what I'd call "as good as it gets" in the times we're in.  Great music, VERY safe environment (at the expense of a more intimate experience, but definitely a good, appropriate trade-off), and a really emotional time for everyone.  Jeff made it very clear all night that he was thrilled / grateful / relieved to be back on stage.  He said right off that it was gonna be tough getting them OFF the stage, and then quipped that they were going to "play all night" before dashing all our hopes by telling that no, they really had a strict curfew there... sigh.  He also indicated that they considered blowing the shofar to start the show, but just didn't want to tempt things too much.  Probly for the best....

He loved being up there with the kids for sure.  I think if he could have had Basil up there for a tune or two he would have been off the charts of thrilledness.  He mentioned at one point that the boys we're "created by me", but then backpedaled that one quickly and later said that Susie in fact had grown them inside her!

Great seeing VC and other regular folks again.. even if it was just on the virtual sidewalk waiting to get in (and catching quite a few soundcheck tunes too!), or inside the show from a distance (or 6' apart for a quick chat).  It was hard to tell who was handling Wilcrew duty up on stage with masks and distance, but Eric, Stan, and Ashley (PK) were all around and about, and it was nice seeing their familiar (yet covered) faces around again.

Jeff mentioned that he didn't think it would replace "the real thing", but I'd say it was a much needed, well done (as always), and enjoyable night... "together".

Vince

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"The air was crisp" but the atmosphere was warm. It was so great just to do something that felt like a normal thing we would do in the before-times.It was a bit weird, what with the distancing and masks, but the venue managed it quite well, I thought.  The band sounded great and were clearly so happy to be there, as were the fans. Starting with the prayer for healing and ending with "Save It For Me" was an emotional one-two punch that continues to resonate with me a couple of days later.

 

Thanks for enjoying the show with me, Paul and Vince and Laura and Dana!

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I finally caught up and watched this last night. Even through the live stream you could tell there was a bit of a disconnection  between the band and the audience. But I'm definitely glad to see things like this happening in this situation. I don't know how it is in the US but I know in the past 20 years or so most of the drive in movie theatres have shut down up here, it's too bad that some areas probably couldn't even attempt a show like this.

I really liked James' pedal steel work. I didn't know he could play pedal steel, did he do it on the Tweedy tour? I know that Jeff mimicked some pedal steel sounds on the Warm and Warmer albums, it'd be cool if we ever get a proper Tweedy band tour again, if James could arrange some of those licks onto pedal steel.

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On 9/19/2020 at 10:37 AM, Albert Tatlock said:

Not me - I only rely on you, and I wouldn't want it any other way.

Ta.

 

On 9/19/2020 at 11:17 AM, knotgreen said:

Sure is nice to be reading one of your recaps, Paul! Sounds like it was an enjoyable evening.

 

On 9/19/2020 at 1:07 PM, u2roolz said:

It’s truly excellent to see a report from Paul in this space. It was a terrific show that I enjoyed from the comfort of my living room.

Thanks, guys! To quote a line from That Thing You Do!, you are my biggest fan(s). (And it was also great to see some familiar faces in person at the actual show, even if they were behind masks. 😷😷😷)

And it’s good to be back on here, even if VC looks different on my phone now! Did this new layout just start today? 

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Yeah and the good news is now we can tag users. Like "Hey @bböp the show has been done for 30 minutes now, where's the recap?!?!", etc.

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6 minutes ago, TCP said:

Yeah and the good news is now we can tag users. Like "Hey @bböp the show has been done for 30 minutes now, where's the recap?!?!", etc.

Oh, fantastic. I look forward to it! 🤣

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Yes, Paul, surprise new update as of the wee hours this morning. Once we all adapt to navigating the new board, you'll find it has many improved features. Photos can now be posted with a simple drag-and-drop, for instance.

Thanks always for your reviews!

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