“If we look a little dead behind the eyes, it’s because we’ve been in L.A. for the past week,” Jeff Tweedy explained a few songs into a nearly two hour set at the Balboa Theatre.
After playing a couple of high-profile Los Angeles dates, and putting in a television appearance on “Conan,” would Tweedy (comprised of Wilco frontman/songwriter Jeff Tweedy and teenage son Spencer on drums) have anything left to give a mid-week audience towards the end of a lengthy tour?
The answer was a definitive yes: while the show didn’t tout big-name guests or super rare cuts, San Diego still received a great show from the unstoppable and extremely likable Jeff Tweedy.
The band — comprised of peers of both Jeff and Spencer — played tracks from 2014’s expansive Sukierae for their main set. The elder Tweedy then played a solo, acoustic set before everyone returned for an encore of covers.
A highlight during the Sukierae portion was “Wait for Love,” featuring Scott McCaughey of The Minus 5, with backing vocals from Sima Cunningham. “Low Key” was also lovely, again benefiting from haunting harmonies by Cunningham.
For the solo set, Jeff Tweedy opened up with “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart,” and generated much audible joy from the audience. But it was “Hummingbird” that stole the show, with its impressive and extended whistling solo.
One thing missing was an arrangement with only Jeff and Spencer Tweedy. Given all the promotion behind the Sukierae tour, including the awesome concert poster featuring an illustration of a motorcycle and sidecar, I was surprised there wasn’t a more intimate showcase that spotlighted just father and son.
Save for a tender hug as Spencer and the band left the stage for Jeff’s solo set, the two seemed to keep a reserved distance, occasionally broken up my Jeff’s warm humor. I thoroughly enjoyed when he came to Spencer’s defense over The Hollywood Reporter’s recent, “incorrect” concert review, passionately stating “No son of mine would have a double kick drum pedal!” At the same time, it was a bit nerve-wracking to know he actually reads reviews (“Hi Jeff, Hi Spencer!”).
Jeff Tweedy’s stage talk has always been a highlight of his shows. One of his recurring themes throughout the night was the idea that to stay relevant with the youth of today, “You gotta get with the 3/4 time, bitches,” something I’m quite sure has never been uttered aloud in my years of concert going.
The fans ran with this, sometimes piping directly at Tweedy between songs about the waltz time signature. Jeff Tweedy jokingly acknowledged that waltzes drive up people’s “horniness,” then quickly looked to his son behind the drum kit with “We’ll talk about it later, Spencer.”
The notion of being in a seated indoor theater for a rock concert is a tricky one; everyone wants to have a good time, but the venue and fans have completely different stances on appropriate behavior. For the most part, the audience at the Balboa followed the rules and stayed seated, but when everyone rose for a standing ovation following the completion of the first set, the room’s energy increased one thousand times over. Fans started to gather in close to the stage for the encore, and security ushered them back to their seats.
An attempt to end a couple’s waltzing during “California Stars” went down right in front of Jeff Tweedy, and he stopped mid-song to tell the guard that “It’s the last fucking song… Let them dance!” And with that, the aisles were filled with bodies and everyone was on their feet, chalking another win for Team Rock and Roll.
Minus 5 frontman and longtime Tweedy pal Scott McCaughey greeted the early arrivals and attendees “from Tijuana” at the start of band’s opening set. Beginning humbly, the band’s energy gained momentum as the songs ticked by, turning in a very fun, enjoyable set. More than a few cellphones were raised to capture R.E.M.’s Peter Buck playing guitar, as well as an energetic couple in the front row rocking out to the music with abandon.
Photos: Tweedy at Balboa Theatre