Breaking news, music lovers: Jeff Tweedy can be kinda hard on himself! At his intimate, 95-minute (mostly) solo acoustic set at the Lincoln Theatre Tuesday night, Wilco's founding father first spoke to the reverent (but more importantly, quiet) crowd to chide himself for flubbing Woody Guthrie's lyric to "Remember the Mountain Bed": "I thought, ‘nine verses, no problem,'" he chuckled. He apologized for his harmonica playing on "Via Chicago," rued that a misplaced capo on his guitar made him sing "ELT" "a half-step higher than I normally do," and by the time he got to the deep cut "The Ruling Class," he wasn't just laughing at his inability to whistle the tune's coda -- he was making fun of the words. His words.
All of which is to say, he was in a good mood.
It's a problematic cliche that tormented artists make better art than cheerful, well-adjusted ones do, and that self-flagellation is the stuff from which many a great songs has been flagellated. But it's a fact that the healthy, sober Tweedy of the last half-decade just hasn't retained his edge from Wilco's fractious, high-turnover golden age circa 1996-2004 -- which happened to be the era that supplied most of last night's 21 songs. After "Impossible Germany," he offered a probably unintentional but dead-on diagnosis of where the band's gone wrong since, quipping, "I'd whistle [guitarist Nels Cline's] solo, but we don't have that kind of time."
He did have time to stir some thrilling rarities among the perennials: "You Are Not Alone," the Tweedy-penned title track from the Grammy-nominated album he produced for Mavis Staples earlier this year, felt soothing and timeless, and the completely unamplified, from-the-lip-of-the stage take of "Acuff Rose" -- an oldie from Wilco precursor Uncle Tupelo -- drew an already close audience closer.
But best of all was when two of his Wilco bandmates, John Stirrat and Pat Sansone (their Tweedyless outfit The Autumn Defense had opened the show) brought their ghostly harmonies to another of those Guthrie-penned tunes, "At My Window Sad and Lonely." Case 1,000,001 of a great songwriter finding beauty in misery.