Closing out a short solo tour before his band, Wilco, returns this summer with its fourth album, Jeff Tweedy didn’t so much expose where he’s going as much as celebrate the emotionally dark place he has explored in the past. The songs, many of them droll yet illuminating, were given dead-center focus; Tweedy clearly put plenty of effort in making sure they were arranged for a one-man band and not just a random demo-quality sampling. He proved to be a compelling performer without his “alternative country” mates.
A healthy portion of the material in the 105-minute show came from Wilco’s last disc, “Summer Teeth” (Reprise), which is now a full 2 years old and, like a decent wine, hits the palette with considerably more flavor than it did upon its first uncorking.
“She’s a Jar,” “A Shot in the Arm” and “Via Chicago” were among the tunes that displayed Tweedy’s balanced assimilation of the wordplay of Bob Dylan and the simple straightforwardness of Hank Williams; when you throw in the older drinkin’ ‘n’ travelin’ tune “Passenger Side,” the recklessness of Paul Westerberg (the Replacements) colors the uniqueness of Tweedy.
Tweedy, who jokes with his audience and wound up getting one-liners shouted back at him, offered only two new songs, one of which was the laugh-out-loud “Heavy Metal Drummer.”
The achingly beautiful “Remember the Mountain Bed,” from his two-volume collaboration with Billy Bragg on unfinished Woody Guthrie lyrics, posited Tweedy as an extension of the pioneering folk singer. Much more than the Brit Bragg, Tweedy echoes Guthrie’s spirit — it’s one of those intangibles that comes from growing up alongside the Mississippi River instead of the Thames.
Armed with just three guitars, one of them a 12-string capoed low on the neck, Tweedy removed the Midwestern twang that has put his work at the forefront of the alternative country movement and replaced it with a host of well-executed styles. His music is defying categorization as he and Wilco better manipulate the studio, now to the point whereby he subverts an older lyric of his: “I don’t need rock ‘n’ roll.” Truth is, rock ‘n’ roll could sure use him.