Wilco’s scheduled two-night stand at the House of Blues was cut short an evening by the death Monday of front man Jeff Tweedy’s mother-in-law. The tragedy was not mentioned during the show, though Tweedy expressed regret about the cancellation. Still, the loss appeared not to have any effect — positive or negative — on Tweedy’s performance, which blended charisma and a regular-guy demeanor in equal measures.In the group’s first L.A. date in two years, Tweedy and company delivered a highly spirited 80-minute set followed by about 25 minutes of encores. They proved a tight-enough unit, but not so rigidly in sync that some scruffy charm wasn’t evident. Though much of Tweedy’s songwriting focuses on the dark side of human experience, the mood sustained Monday evening was nonetheless one of exhilaration. The band presented most of the material from its latest album, “Summerteeth” (a curious omission was “Via Chicago,” perhaps the best song on the CD), with the usual smattering from past discs “A.M.” and “Being There” and the much-lauded collaboration with Billy Bragg on Woody Guthrie songs, “Mermaid Avenue.” For good measure, the band also performed one song from Tweedy’s days in the seminal alt-country ensemble Uncle Tupelo, “New Madrid” from the band’s final album, “Anodyne,” though in large part, the countrified twang of Wilco’s early days was eschewed in favor of a more straight-ahead rock approach. The virtues of “Summerteeth” have divided fans somewhat violently: One group declares that with this album, Wilco has sold out; others cheer the band’s ability to weld complex textures onto sunny pop pastiches. While it’s true that “Summerteeth” features some of Wilco’s most pop-accented tunes, the Beatlesesque and Beach Boys influences have cropped up often in its previous work, so the new album shouldn’t be any real surprise. On the other hand, in the past Wilco has been at its best when luxuriating in an exquisite melancholy, so the cheeriness of the recent work can feel slightly manufactured. Ultimately, were the band truly interested in megaplatinum status, it’d do something about Tweedy’s raspy vocals, and that’s obviously unlikely. Like Paul Westerberg, his voice is not a finely tuned instrument, and therefore probably not a palatable one for fans of slick, mainstream pop. It is, however, a highly expressive one, providing added emotional impact when it’s cracking slightly. At its best, Wilco indulges its pop-country sensibility in an agreeably disparate sonic landscape, bringing an ordered cacophony into Tweedy’s songs to lend them an added resonance. “Hotel Arizona,” “Shot in the Arm,” the Dylanesque “Passenger Side” and “Hoodoo Voodoo” were among the numbers given an added sonic jolt of jangling discord in Monday’s show. For the most part, though, songs were given economical, straightforward renderings — only one, “Forget the Flowers,” received a workout utterly unlike its recorded iteration. Tweedy proved he’s a charismatic front man — when the mood strikes, he’ll do a Pete Townshend jump or a judo kick, the classic, basic stuff of live rock. Yet he respects the music too much to affect mere postures in concert. The band, which wasn’t even introduced during the set, remained mainly in the background, with only a handful of virtuoso flourishes. Jay Bennett’s most ambitious guitar solos came during the unlikely pair of songs “Christ for President” and “Casino Queen.”
House of Blues; 1,000 capacity; $20
Presented inhouse. Reviewed May 24, 1999.
Band: Jeff Tweedy, Jay Bennett, John Stirratt, Ken Coomer, Leroy Bach.