This was our second year in a row checking out one of Jeff Tweedy’s solo live shows that benefit the Near North Montessori School where his son goes. He’s been doing it for eight years now, and has raised a lot of money for scholarships toward children’s education. It’s a great two-night event at The Vic-for fans of music and philanthropy alike.
If you’re not familiar with these shows, it’s a little different than a normal night. The first thirty people in line get to decide the set list, so anything can happen. Tweedy also takes some questions in writing ahead of time that he’ll answer in between songs. Everything is very laid back, and often there are songs that get messed up tried again or else aborted entirely with a shrug and an apology.
On this particular night Tweedy came out with his shaggy hair and shabby denim jacket, bearded and bespectacled. He’s a really jovial frontman at every show I’ve seen, but particularly in his solo sets. He makes a lot of self-deprecating jokes and gets into it with the crowd a bit. Tonight he called a guy an “asshole” because the guy gave his rendition of the song the guy requested a B+. He quickly backtracked and said that the comment “wasn’t very Montessori” of him.
My favorite funny little story came when he read a fan question. The question was: “What celebrity would you want to swap wives with on Celebrity Wifeswap?” Tweedy gave it a lot of thought before replying, “Barney Frank.” He then quickly picked up his guitar and started a new song. Another funny moment came later when, during his cover of Bob Dylan’s “The Banks Of The Royal Canal,” his harmonica holder was too big for him to use. He tried it out to little effect. After the first chorus he stopped playing and made a spontaneous modification to the metal by putting it on the floor and bending into a more functional shape with his hands.
The set list for the night was wildly different from last year’s show, which I suppose is the point of letting people choose the songs. Only one Uncle Tupelo song this time out. Tweedy played two songs by Mavis Staples (one off her last record and one from the soon-to-be released follow-up, both produced by Tweedy), two by Bob Dylan, one Beatles song, and one each by Bill Fay, Ian Hunter, and Rabbit Brown. My collection below is surely out of order, and there were two that I missed or didn’t know the titles (I was trying to write down every song, but it was dark and I couldn’t see anything).
Tomorrow night’s show is sold out, but keep your ear to the ground for the show announcement next year. If you’re a Wilco superfan, it is surely worth the $75 ticket price, plus whatever it would cost to get you to Chicago. I didn’t take any videos or anything, but here’s one I found of my favorite performance from last year’s show that I went to. (UPDATED: I fixed my setlist by copying the one posted by bbop over on viachicago.com Thanks!)
Wilco (the song) (“Jeff Tweedy solo will love you baby…”)
One Sunday Morning
The Long Cut
Message From Mid-Bar (“spoken word” version)
Pot Kettle Black
Please Be Patient With Me
[The Community Song (sung twice)]
I’m Only Sleeping [The Beatles]
Why Would You Wanna Live
[The Community Song]
Simple Twist Of Fate [Bob Dylan]
The Auld Triangle [traditional]
Bull Black Nova (started and restarted)
Laminated Cat (aka Not For The Season)
James Alley Blues [Richard "Rabbit" Brown]
You Are Not Alone
Let’s Not Get Carried Away (“spoken word” version; fragment only)
What Are They Doing In Heaven Today? [Washington Phillips]
[The Community Song (sung three times)]
I Wish I Was Your Mother [Mott The Hoople]
Theologians (“…dedicated to the new pope”)
Outta Mind (Outta Sight)
One funny thing I forgot above: When Tweedy was reading the lyrics from “Message From Mid-Bar (because they were too horrible for him to sing) he got to one line and said its the one he’s most proud of-”Hate will save the dolphins.” Huge laugh from the audience as he went on to say that there’s a guy who goes to a lot of shows that always holds up a sign with that line on it. He’ll hold it up until Tweedy acknowledges him, and then sets it down for the rest of the show. Probably not true, but I hope it is.
I’m a couple weeks behind on this release, but I think you’ll be happy with this release regardless of when you hear it. This new three song 7″ was released on January 15th on Topshelf, and it’s already garnered some good buzz. I was sent one of the songs to check out and immediately knew that I would like it. There’s something about this small group of bands that mix things like americana and punk together that I really enjoy. It’s got equal amounts of Weezer and early Wilco influences with a really irreverent attitude that comes off great in these new songs.
By Surprise have been playing together for seven years, and you can tell they’re in sync. This isn’t a band seeking technical perfection, they want to get into your skin. And they do just that. Right off the bat with the title track, “Criteria,” Patrick Gartland’s vocals creep around in your head until you’re seeing things through his eyes. The guitar squeals and persistent drums give the song a hefty momentum that contrasts with the lyrics, which would seem just as at home in a lovelorn ballad.
“Wear That Crown” is the most radio ready track of the three. If you like stuff like All-American Rejects I would start with this song and then check out the others. It reminds me a little bit of a harder version of some of the popular rock of the 90′s. There’s a great balance here between playing at a breakneck speed and slowing it down when they need to-a credit to the rhythm section for toeing the line. It’s a sharp number with wide appeal. It’s engaging without playing down to the lowest common denominator.
I really like the guitar and bass work on “Way To Be Tall.” The lead guitar lays on this layer of spatter over the primer provided by the bass. They just work so well together that I would find it impossible to accept any other version of the song. The lyrics about growing up are playful and biting in the chorus-”I’m waiting for you to start trying. I’m waiting for you to stop crying and start dying.”
Music is a pretty subjective artform, so I don’t expect everyone to dig these guys. They’ve got my number, though. Sometimes it’s hard to explain. They’re a few years younger than I am, but I assume we listened to a lot of the same music in our journeys to where we are today. I’ll have to go back and check out their back catalogue, but from what I’ve heard so far I’m more than happy to recommend you go pick up this 7″. I don’t know of any tour plans as of now, but By Surprise are from south Jersey, so maybe some east coast dates are on the horizon.
I think it’s easy to say that in 2012 I went to more shows than any previous year of my life. I saw a greater variety of styles as well-everything from hip-hop and afrobeat to blues and indie pop. Just the way I like it. These ten shows were the ones that really got me excited about being out and witnessing great music in the moment. I know I tend to favor the lesser-known bands from Chicago or Brooklyn (or Oakland), but when it comes down to forking over some hard-earned cash, sometimes the bigger names are big for a reason…
10. The Shams Band/Daniel Ellsworth and the Great Lakes (July 23rd at Schubas)
9. Bhi Bhiman (4 shows in 2012-Park West, Schubas, Lincoln Hall, Uncommon Ground)
8. Of Montreal (March 28th at Metro)
7. Wilco/The Congregation/Andrew Bird (July 8th at Fifth Third Ballpark)
6. Sons Of An Illustrious Father/Mooner/The Canoes (July 20th at Observatory Studios)
5. Fiona Apple (March 18th at Lincoln Hall)
4. Prince (September 24th at House Of Blues)
No videos unless you want The Purple One to sue you.
3. Frank Ocean (August 3rd at Metro)
2. Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band (September 11th at Wrigley Field)
1. Jeff Mangum (February 6th and 7th at Athenaeum Theatre)
On Sunday July 8 Wilco played their biggest headlining gig to date. Held at Fifth Third Ballpark in Geneva, IL, there were approximately 15,000 fans on hand to witness what may have been the finest Wilco show I’ve ever seen. To open the gig Wilco invited fellow city dwellers The Congregation and Andrew Bird, making the show a true Chicago affair.
The Congregation kicked things off at 5:30. Their set was like an electric shock, getting people on the field dancin’ and the people in the stands stomping their feet. Gina Bloom’s vocals, which we already know are amazing, sounded spectacular when they hit the crowd. Charlie Layne’s bluesy guitar solos were damn near literal facemelters, and although I know he must have been dying from the heat in his suit he looked cool as ice.
They played a good mix of stuff from their debut EP Not For Sleepin’ as well as new stuff from their forthcoming album Right Now Everything. In particular I really enjoyed these live versions of “He’s Gone,” “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” and “Right Now Everything.” The horn section sounded great, and i think The Congregation probably gained about 8,000 fans in their thirty minute set.
The Congregation have a big summer ahead of them, and it’s kicking off this weekend at Fitzgerald’s in Oak Park on Saturday. Some of you may have noticed that the band has been getting more and more buzz since earlier this year when it was announced they’d be opening for Wilco on July 8 in Geneva, IL and being mentioned in Paste Magazine. As if that’s not enough, they’re also planning to drop their first full-length in the fall called Right Now Everything and have a slew of shows lined up all over Chicago including the Sheffield Garden Walk and Taste Of Lincoln Ave.
To prepare everyone for the ridiculous amount of awesome they are about to behold, I give you my original review of the bands 2010 EP, Not For Sleepin’. Read more…