"Tweedy has well and truly cemented himself as a legend of modern Americana."
In the subdued setting of the ornate Athenaeum Theatre, Jen Cloher brings some much-needed jagged swagger to the proceedings. In both sound and lyricism, the full band version of Cloher’s music would be less than welcome in these hallowed halls, but the stripped-back acoustic renditions somehow fit perfectly. Opening with a heart-tugging delivery of Regional Echo, Cloher moves beyond the already brilliant alt-rock sound she has crafted and takes the opportunity to showcase her poetic songwriting abilities. The soft-spoken muso is hilariously candid as she regales the audience with a tale of childhood video game addiction, which ultimately leads to the penning of the excellent closer, Strong Woman.
It is perfectly without ceremony that Jeff Tweedy makes his way to the stage. Amplified by only a couple of mics just inches from his battered acoustic guitar, the radiant embrace of Via Chicago fills the room in a heartbeat. The feeling of an old friend coming back to visit is in effect instantly, as the legend of alt-country and indie tunes makes everyone in attendance feel a part of something special. Indeed, there’s no doubt that Tweedy himself is something special, too: with more bands to his name than most bands have songs, the singer has amassed an incredible trove of equally incredible tracks.
Tweedy’s songwriting has always had an element of straightforwardness to it, and while it’s usually layered between the clamorous Wilco and Uncle Tupelo composition, here it’s completely out in the cold. At times, it feels as if the audience is in a voyeuristic emotional peep show, peering in on something they shouldn’t be watching. No longer is Tweedy in front of a sea of loving fans, but rather in his bedroom, plucking away at a lifetime of musical inspiration. It’s a beautiful and occasionally difficult illusion to observe, and one that far too often shatters at the hands of some rowdier punters.
With his brilliantly comical banter between songs, Tweedy unintentionally opens the floodgates for some very out of place hecklers to try and outshine the performer. Somewhat shy when he speaks, his cutting, no-nonsense shutdowns of these unruly types is quick and fantastically funny. If he swapped out the decades of beautiful music for a couple of punchlines, he could be on the stand-up circuit in no time.
The journey through his back catalogue is not for the occasional Tweedy fan, but diehard lovers of the man will be enthralled by this next chapter in his musical career. From his solo tunes like Let’s Go Rain and Don’t Forget, to the plethora of hit songs from band albums like Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and No Depression, Tweedy has well and truly cemented himself as a legend of modern Americana. He’s a cowboy poet for the 21st century and a hell of a jovial one at that.