Jeff Tweedy Gave Fans Just What They Wanted in His Return to St. Louis

The Belleville native’s solo-acoustic show delighted the crowd at the Sheldon

Jul 19, 2023 at 4:36 pm
click to enlarge Jeff Tweedy didn't let two hip replacements keep him from a 21-song set. - STEVE LEFTRIDGE
STEVE LEFTRIDGE
Jeff Tweedy didn't let two hip replacements keep him from a 21-song set.

Let’s look at the numbers. In Jeff Tweedy’s 21-song solo-acoustic show at the Sheldon on Tuesday night, he played 12 Wilco songs, five songs from his solo albums, a tune from side band Loose Fur, one song Tweedy wrote for another artist and two Uncle Tupelo tracks. That’s one more Tupelo song than other cities are likely to get, given that Tweedy was performing for a hometown crowd where all things Uncle Tupelo still bring out an undying passion for those who lived it in real time back in the days of Cicero’s and Mississippi Nights. 

The Sheldon was filled with those fans, mostly 52-year-old white men wearing the classic Uncle Tupelo uniform of the ballcap and short-sleeved button-down Western shirt purchased from the camping section at REI. For a Tuesday-night Sheldon show, the crowd was in a festive mood, overwhelming the bar staff and over-participating during the show by continually chirping out comments stageward between songs. Tweedy, always good-natured with his audiences, engaged with plenty of that chatter, responding to a fan who told him he was doing a good job; unfortunately, others in the crowd took that as a green light to run the gag into the ground for the rest of the show. 

That quibble aside, it was a wonderful set. Tweedy was noticeably hobbled on stage, needing, as he told us, two hip replacements, and it looked as though adding a stool to the stage might have been a good idea. Nonetheless, Tweedy sang and played beautifully. Given the acoustic integrity of the room, Tweedy kept seven to 15 inches away from the mic at all times, enhancing the feeling of an intimate sonic encounter, and his guitar playing, always an underrated aspect of his craft, was delightfully denuded to bring out all of his thorny-chorded, deceptive complexity. 

Three songs early on were drawn from last year’s Cruel Country, including the opening “The Universe” and “Story to Tell,” a way of establishing some close listening before getting into more familiar fare like “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart,” embroidered with some crystalline fingerpicking, and a jauntily reworked “Box Full of Letters,” one of the evening’s two songs (along with “Passenger Side”) from Wilco’s 1995 debut album. 

Tweedy dipped into his solo songbag next: the mellow folk of “Gwendolyn” and a gorgeous “Having Been is No Way to Be,” Tweedy at his most movingly autobiographical, detailing his recovery from addiction and his ultimate devotion to his family. Throughout, Tweedy inserted levity into these heavier moments, as when he introduced “Don’t Forget” as a song about his dead father only to lose track of the lyrics midway through, momentarily stop the song and drolly blame his dad for derailing the song. “I think it’s because I didn’t play his favorite song,” he joked. 

That song turned out to be “Hummingbird,” played next, which ended with a lovely whistling solo from Tweedy, giving way to more jokey banter. “Have you ever heard Andrew Bird whistle?” he asked. “He sucks!” Tweedy mentioned that writers often think he’s being serious in his ironic self-deprecation, so for record, Tweedy was joking and went on to deliver another punchline, saying that Bird “went to Juilliard for whistling.” 

The show stopped short of stand-up comedy or deep Springsteen on Broadway-style storytelling, although Tweedy did tell one humorous anecdote about his mother taking him to New York as a kid. He was so inspired by the artistic community he saw there, he talked his mom into buying him a beret. 

At one point, Tweedy announced his intention to play “some songs you know better,” which turned out to be “Dawned On Me,” from Wilco’s The Whole Love, an odd song to pick for that introduction. “You and Me” was greeted with the audible affection of a woman in the crowd, prompting Tweedy to ask if the song was played at her wedding, noting that someone played Wilco’s “She’s a Jar” during their wedding. Big laughs rattled across the wooden seats. 

The night’s only request? “Impossible Germany.” The song written for another artist? “You Are Not Alone,” a new Mavis Staples classic. The Loose Fur song? “Laminated Cat,” which was just beautiful, punctuated with percussive guitar discordance but curiously played in the encore spots. (Due in part to his hip issues, Tweedy let us know that he wouldn’t be doing the “bullshit” of leaving and coming back out.) And the Uncle Tupelo songs? “New Madrid,” of course, and then “Screen Door,” a song with — gasp! — a Jay Farrar co-writing credit, going all the way back to No Depression and dedicated to Tim Albert, the engineer who helped Tupelo record the song back in 1990 and who was in attendance last night. This was the big moment all the old Tupeheads talked about out on the steps after the show. 

The set ended with two straightforward Wilco standards, “I’m the Man Who Loves You” and “Shot in the Arm,” as close as the night came to full singalongs. “I’m from Belleville, but I feel at home in St. Louis,” Tweedy told us at one point. And as he limped off stage at show’s end, the crowd roared loudly for their local hero. 


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