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Jeff Tweedy — 4 June 2021, Bridgeview, IL (SeatGeek Stadium [Parking Lot S1])


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I am extremely out of practice at show recaps and, who knows if anyone even checks good ol' VC anymore, but this was certainly a very pleasant way to spend a late spring/early summer evening. Beautiful weather, especially once the sun retired for the evening; a crowd with a lot of familiar faces; and a slightly reconfigured band whose members were  clearly enjoying making music with one other and for a real live audience — all combined for a show that felt almost normal again. Whatever that is.

 

Of course there still being a global pandemic, it wasn't totally normal. After all, we were in a parking lot of a soccer stadium in some distant corner of Chicagoland, relatively socially distanced, sometimes wearing masks and basically huddled around our cars. As Jeff himself suggested at one point, hopefully this will be the last drive-in concert that anyone ever attends. But as the Tweedy band — James Elkington (electric guitar), Liam Kazar (bass), Spencer Tweedy, (drums), Sima Cunningham and Macie Stewart (the latter bringing the added dimension of her violin as she joined her Ohmme bandmate filling in for Sammy Tweedy on backing vocals) — played on and gradually more and more people began to gather close together toward the barricade in front of the stage, the show started to feel a little bit, maybe, like how things used to be.

 

When you compare this show with the other drive-in concert put on by Jeff and Co. in September, it almost felt like the two could serve as bookends to the entire COVID experience (at least in the United States). While the show last year was still a delight, especially given the dearth of live music in 2020, the mood was decidedly somber with a chill in the air foreboding the coming of winter and strict enforcement of mask wearing and social distancing indicating the still-uncertain future of the pandemic and the breaking news just before showtime of the passing of Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg casting a pall over the proceedings. By contrast, this show outside SeatGeek — which hosted the Chicago-area stop of the AmericanaRama tour nearly exactly eight years prior, albeit inside the actual stadium, then known as Toyota Park — felt rather hopeful overall with the sunny, warm, breezy weather making it feel like summer and the vibe more like a tailgate party than anything else.

 

One of the few things that the two shows shared was the inevitable and requisite — they were both drive-in shows, after all — honking of car horns by the audience. To be honest, although a passing train honked several times during the first song, it wasn't until maybe a third of the way through the main set when Jeff commented about the horn honking that the car horns began to blare in earnest. And for me, one of the highlights of the show came in the first song of the encore, when Jeff was joined by only Elkington  for a beautiful duet performance of Even I Can See.

 

That, of course, was a song Jeff wrote for his wife Susie, who had to miss the SeatGeek show because she was escorting Sammy to his summer job as a musical director at a camp. Regular Tweedy Show watchers, of course, already knew that Sammy would not be at this drive-in show and that the band wouldn't play Save It For Me (which had closed the first drive-in show) without him. So the absence of half the Tweedy clan marked another difference between the two drive-in shows, though Jeff did acknowledge the Tweedy Show on more than one occasion and thanked those who have watched for spending time with their family for more than 180 hours and counting now.

 

With Sammy missing, the aforementioned addition of Stewart to this Tweedy band lineup added a different and welcome dimension with her violin really adding a nice twangy element to the mix. Stewart and Cunningham, of course, already have a sister-like vocal chemistry with their partnership in Ohmme, which was on display with their backing vocals on such songs as High As Hello, Low Key and the show-closing California Stars (on which Kazar also joined in vocally).

 

Will write a bit more perhaps when I've gotten at least a small amount of shuteye, but for now here was the complete setlist as played (full band on all songs, unless noted, with Stewart and Cunningham adding violin and tambourine, respectively, in addition to backing vocals):

 

Love Is The King

A Robin Or A Wren

High As Hello

Low Key

Bad Day Lately

Flowering

Opaline

Half-Asleep

Gwendolyn

Having Been Is No Way To Be

Don't Forget

I Know What It's Like

Guaranteed

Summer Noon

Evergreen

Family Ghost

Bombs Above>

Some Birds

New Moon

Natural Disaster

Guess Again

Let's Go Rain

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Even I Can See (Jeff and James Elkington only)

I Wanna Be Your Mama Again [Sir Douglas Quintet]

Love Like A Wire [Diane Izzo]

You Are Not Alone

Don't Let Me Down [The Beatles]

Give Back The Key To My Heart [Doug Sahm]

California Stars

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I thought the sound quality was great. Mix was totally dialed in from the start. The harmonies sounded great. The parking was way better at the fall show with the drive in’s curved rows. But the weather was so much better last night, so it’s a fair trade

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Once the sun set, it was a lovely evening, especially with a nice breeze. 
 

I teared up twice. The first time was when it started. Just a pure emotional release of this being the first “normal” thing I’ve done since March of 2020. The second time was seeing Jeff tear up. I really feel for him and other artists who haven’t been able to perform for audiences in over a year. 

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Always a pleasure to see that bbop hasn't decided to hang up his keyboard and lead a quiet life of vinyl collection after the dearth of live music that we've all had these past months.  And also good to know that this may have been the last drive-in concert I'll ever have to see, though it was a delightful evening. 
I can't say enough about how Macie's violin really filled out some of the songs in the set.  She added some really great textures to a few of the songs, never overplaying anything but definitely making them more "full".  For those of us who have only heard Jeff mostly solo via the Tweedy Show, having that plus the whole band was a very welcome bump for his newer material.  And as was also noted above, the mix and sound was really outstanding.  Stan hasn't missed a beat either; could be the ponytail. 

The setup was just alright.  Toasty stadium parking lot with each car area designated with about a car-sized area next to it for watching the show mask-free.  The whole thing being wedged between a plenty active railroad track and Midway Airport's departure runways made for some poorly placed "cameos" during the show, but the show did go on.  A serviceable taco truck was a good add.  The slightly-cooled mini-cans of Heineken 0.0 provided at the entrance, not so much.  Oh, and the backdrop behind the stage was not exactly the cutting edge we're used to seeing, but rather a generic scrolling star scene that I'm calling "the cheese nebula".  Please come back Jeremy!!

Banter-wise, things were, well, a bit rusty. At one point he sorta went down a banter hole on something random, ran out of what to say, and told us that the showbiz trick to getting out of that hole was to just keep talking.  I don't think he really embraced that advice.  He quoted someone up front who said "just play", and that seemed to get things back on track.  The intro to "Guaranteed" (the often-told one about the original "work of art" line) was apologetically delivered, but the ensuing "no walk in the park" lyric did get its usual chuckle.  But if the banter was sparse and a little wobbly, the smiles-per-hour were at an all time high.  The man certainly seemed to enjoy himself and seeing actual faces along with the cars instead of last time ("it was like playing to a used car lot") with folks all huddled / masked up, mostly behind windshields in their cars on that chilly fall evening.

But for me the highlight of the evening was the encore, which was when a few of the less-shy patrons (myself included, but the real props go to Patty B who instigated things in her won't-take-no-for-an-answer style) made it up to the rail for the encore.  Yes, the RAIL.  A real, honest to goodness concert rail in front of the first row along the width of the stage.  Oh man did it feel good to hang on to that steel bar and sing and smile and clap.  Fortunately, or perhaps facilitated by the band and crew, the security folks who had been quite prevalent throughout the evening had sorta faded out by then, and we were able to enjoy that last segment without interference.  By the end of the encore, I think we may have had 50? people up there, and by the time they closed with Cali Stars (which was not on the printed setlist btw), we were all in full sway and full voice.  It really was a great moment, and Jeff did get a little choked up there, saying how much he missed it all and adding something like "This is my life; I was born for this". 

 

You could tell that we all were more than happy to put this second bookend on the musical void we've all been though.  Jeff's closing comment was "see you sooner rather than later", and I think we'll all hoping to take him up on that offer real soon.


Cheers and see y'all soon,

Vince

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