“WHO’S THE DRUMMER?!”
Jeff Tweedy had just finished introducing his non-Wilco backing crew at Friday’s taping of “Austin City Limits” — but the crowd noted that he’d left out a kind of important member, given that the new band is named Tweedy. “Oh yeah!” he answered. “That’s my son, Spencer.”
Father and son (Tweedy and pop?) had just finished playing a full album’s worth of new material at ACL Live along with guitarist Jim Elkington, multi-instrumentalist Liam Cunningham, bassist Darin Gray, and backing vocalists Holly Laessig and Jess Wolfe of the band Lucius. It’s not common for a show to begin with 14 songs no one has yet heard: “That’s always fun at a concert,” Tweedy acknowledged apologetically as he thanked the audience for the indulgence.
The pleasure, as it turned out, was all ours. Though Tweedy followed the new stuff with nine Wilco and Uncle Tupelo favorites played solo plus a couple of full-band ringers for an encore, it was the sneak preview of “Sukierae,” the upcoming debut from the band just called Tweedy, that made the night special.
Judging from Friday’s performance, “Sukierae” (due Sept. 16 on Tweedy’s own dBpm label) will be a fairly low-key album, and not a drastic departure from Wilco. Sonically adventurous numbers toward the start of the set were balanced with stark acoustic tunes that focused squarely on the lyrics, plus a handful of poppier moments recalling Wilco’s late ’90s “Summerteeth” era.
An undercurrent of sadness ran through the material. Loneliness emerged as a theme in several songs, and the lyrics often tackled hard realities. In “Diamond Light,” driven by Gray’s insistent bass thump, he asks, “Are you scared … terrified of being alone?” In “Desert Bell,” all instrumentation faded away at the end as Tweedy sang, “Let me no longer be with your sorrow.”
Still, the pathos often was tempered with hope. “I’ve always been certain for all of my life / That one day I would be a burden, and you would be my wife,” he sang in “New Moon,” which started in hushed tones and subtly built up tension toward a cutting solo from Elkington in the bridge. In the end, Tweedy voiced one simple request: “When you fall asleep, please let me be what you’re dreaming for.”
Tweedy also noted that several songs have the word “love” in the title — “Where My Love,” “Wait for Love,” “Slow Love.” The last of those was built around a hypnotic chant – “slow love is the only love” – that the audience gradually joined in on at the outset, before the instrumentation and stellar vocals from Laessig and Wolfe steered the song toward brilliant soundscapes. In the end, the chant returned: “Slow love is the only love.”
Throughout, The younger Tweedy proved to be a very tasteful player: He’s no heavy metal drummer, leaning instead toward the careful precision of jazz with a hint of improvisational invention. It’s clear he’s had a good mentor in Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche, but he’s also developing his own style – and it was nice to see him chime in on backing vocals during Doug Sahm’s “Give Back The Key to My Heart” in the encore.
Tweedy mentioned he’d recorded that Sahm classic with its author a little over 20 years ago in Austin, when Uncle Tupelo made their “Anodyne” swan song at Cedar Creek studio. It was an inspired choice after he’d given the band a break for a solo acoustic run-through of time-tested tunes including “Via Chicago,” “New Madrid” and “Passenger Side.” The highlight of that section was “Jesus Etc.,” with Laessig and Wolfe returning to provide beautiful harmonies.
All of the Tweedys – Jeff, Spencer, and the band named Tweedy – reconvene tonight at the Texas Union Ballroom for a sold-out show with opening act the Handsome Family.
Down From Above
Where My Love
High As Hello
Wait For Love
Via Chicago (solo)
I Am Trying To Break Your Heart (solo)
New Madrid (solo)
Please Tell My Brother (solo)
Born Alone (solo)
Jesus Etc. (with Holly Laessig and Jess Wolfe of Lucius)
Passenger Side (solo)
Give Back the Key to My Heart (band)
California Stars (band)