News Column

Concert Review: Jeff Tweedy charms arts festival crowd

June 7, 2014

By Scott Mervis, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette



June 07--Some say Jeff Tweedy is the ultimate "dad rock," probably because the people who use that derogatory term were running around in diapers around the time that Wilco was in its prime.

Now, Mr. Tweedy has taken things a step further by actually recruiting his own son, Spencer, for his first solo venture.

The Three Rivers Arts Festival was the second night of the tour, after opening Thursday in Detroit, and a bigger challenge for the band, holding the interest of an audience in Point State Park distracted by food booths, kids, dogs, the threat of flying objects and people just there for the free atmosphere.

The singer-songwriter-guitarist, who had the nerve to move Wilco from alt-country to power-pop to pop-noise, doesn't usually shy away from challenges, so it was no great surprise that he would hit the stage with a run of eight straight unreleased songs.

They were definitely a step back from the fully formed sonic landscape of Wilco and there was a tentative, sometimes plodding quality to the playing -- somewhere Jay Farrar may have been laughing just a little -- but much of it had his scruffy charm and vulnerability to go with his mellow, plain-spoken delivery.

After the first three were warmly received, Mr. Tweedy, famous for his contentious encounters with crowds, said, "You guys are really encouraging."

"We're going to play a set of all new material in front of a festival-size audience," he said with a sense of disbelief, adding that he would play older stuff later, "but only if you're good."

It was a slow moving set of songs but not without dynamic. "World Away" had a churning funk groove with a distorted blast from guitarist Jim Elkington of Eleventh Dream Day. The droning "Slow Love" started with an attempted sing-along ("If you want to be in the cult and you want to be immortal, sing along," he said) and lumbered toward a pretty, dreamy coda. "Low Key," on which he sang, "I've always been low key/you know me," had some of the sunny power-pop vibe of "Summerteeth"-era Wilco.

Things clicked even better when he sent the band off for a wonderful acoustic set that included "Spiders (Kidsmoke)," pushed along with hand claps, "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" faves "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart," "Heavy Metal Drummer" and "Jesus, Etc." and whistling lullaby "Hummingbird."

"You guys are going to have to help me out with this song," he said, introducing "California Stars." "I honestly don't know if I remember this song, and I've played it a thousand times, 10,000 times." It was a ragged beauty, as was "A Shot in the Arm."

The solo was also an outlet for his stand-up bit, playing off the crowd about oddball requests, his sometimes rugged delivery of the songs, the "First Viagara" sign on Mount Washington and the well-behaved kids up front: "You must be colossally bored."

If they were, they were in the minority, as the Wilco frontman and his imaginative songs were in complete control of Point State Park.

Ray LaMontagne at Stage AE

Ray LaMontagne had a rough time during his last visit to Stage AE Outdoors on a rainy night in 2011, when he lost the crowd and ended up cursing some of them for talking through the set.

On Friday night, the venue remedied the situation by renting chairs not only for the front section but, for the first time, the lawn as well. The seated crowd was much more attentive for the New Englander's bluesy folk songs, delivered with one of the raspier voices you'll ever hear.

The singer-songwriter also took matters into his own hands by augmenting songs like breakout hit "Trouble" and the sleepy "Like Rock & Roll Radio" with some bolder psych-rock songs from his new album, "Supernova."

Scott Mervis: smervis@post-gazette.com; 412-263-2576.

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Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (PA)


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