Less country and certainly not alternative...
In his song ‘The Great Historical Bum’, Woody Guthrie claimed credit for creation, evolution and the Grand Coulee Dam amongst other things. But not alternative country – no one’s claiming that, especially not Jeff Tweedy. Tweedy, with Jay Farrar, founded the legendary Uncle Tupelo and involuntarily spawned the rubbishly-named ‘No Depression’ genre. After Farrar left in 1994, the Tupelo‘s quietly became Wilco, less country and certainly not alternative.
The 1,200 capacity Fillmore is sold out for three nights, confirming to nme.com‘s disbelief that there are 3,600 check shirts in this town. Tweedy may be more famous for his collaborations with Farrar, Bragg and Guthrie, but tonight’s crowd have come to see Wilco and their agreeable, if hardly innovative take on the country-rock-blues-jam thing. It is a well-trodden path, especially in this neck of the woods, where Grateful Dead ticket dollars still burn holes in pockets.
‘Mermaid Avenue’ – Volumes 1 & 2 – take up the first half of the set. Opener ‘Airline To Heaven’ has a pleasant jangly Byrds feel and Volume 1 favourites ‘California Stars’ and ‘Hesitating Beauty’ are as splendid as ever. It’s all very tasteful and a bit dull to be honest. ‘Red Eyed and Blue’, a classic from ‘Being There’, is dragged out into a tedious jam and baseball caps bob appreciatively.
Tweedy doesn’t say much, just flashes that young Malcolm McDowell grin and gets on with it.
His first words are a mysterious rant at a (mostly favourable) review of the opening night show in the San Francisco Examiner. He then produces a copy and proceeds to mime wiping his arse with it.
As motivational therapy, it seems to work. The rest of the set is tighter and twangier, finishing with the Gram Parsons-like ‘Forget The Flowers’. For the encores, there are not one but three peerless Tupelo gems: ‘We’ve Been Had’, ‘Long Cut’ and ‘New Madrid’. A rare treat, indeed – maybe the audience owes that reviewer a beer.