Jeff Tweedy is a singer/songwriter, and the primary vehicle for his singing and songwriting is the band Wilco.
But like most singer/songwriters, Tweedy writes more than enough songs for his primary band so the ones that don’t make the Wilco cut lie in wait.
Tuesday night at the Missouri Theater in downtown Columbia, Tweedy showcased some of those songs with a four-man band comprising three longtime friends and, on drums, son Spencer Tweedy, 18.
For a hour, he and the band rolled through about a dozen songs, all new to a crowd that filled about two-thirds of the theater. Most of the songs were midtempo, guitar-centric affairs, several colored with the kind of distortion and other effects that appeared on “A Ghost is Born,” the Wilco album Tweedy made with Jim O’Rourke.
A couple were finger-plucking acoustic-folk or country-ish tunes. A couple others were buoyant pop numbers. Nearly all bore a few Wilco traits. Most resembled another well-known Wilco tune: “She’s A Jar” and “War on War” were just two of several that came to mind during the opening set. The crowd reacted to most of the set with a warm, hearty response.
The band supporting Jeff Tweedy definitely wasn’t Wilco, but what band is? Smaller in number and not nearly as cinematic, they sounded more like a new group that had worked its act into a sound that was lean and clean at times, a bit scruffy at others. Guitarist Jim Elkington (Eleventh Dream Day) isn’t Nels Cline, but he added some nice fills and embroidery, especially those he and Tweedy performed without the rhythm section.
Tweedy, as usual, was in command all night. He stopped one attempt at clapping when the crowd wasn’t in time. He organized the front rows into sections for those who wanted to sit and those who wanted to stand or dance.
And he orchestrated a sing-along on a slow-burning ballad called “No Love,” asking the crowd to imagine it was wearing a poncho and sandals. It’s that kind of a song, he explained before teaching the crowd two lines: “Slow love is the only love” and “There is no love, there is only love.”
About an hour into the show, the band was dismissed, the lights were dimmed and Tweedy set off on a set of songs from his deep Wilco catalog plus some Uncle Tupelo, Loose Fur and Golden Smog tunes. Anyone who saw his solo show at the Uptown Theater in December knows what this set was like. It takes something extra for a guy with just an acoustic guitar to carry an audience in a big theater, but Tweedy has both the material and the panache to do it.
The set list included “Via Chicago,” “New Madrid,” “Passenger Side,” “Should Have Been in Love,” “Born Alone,” “Jesus, Etc.,” “I am Trying to Break Your Heart,” “The Ruling Class.”
The band rejoined him for two more numbers: one of the new ones, which will appear on a coming album, and then a raw and jaunty version of “California Stars,” a beloved Wilco contribution to the first “Mermaid Avenue” album.
The crowd brought Tweedy back for one more: a version of “Misunderstood” he performed at the edge of the stage, with no amplification. He turned the end into a tribal-like chant between him and his audience, a heavy incantation of “Nothing, nothing, nothing …” that went on for nearly a full minute before he brought it to a finish that was demonstrative and on point: “Nothing at all.”
It was a fitting close to a showcase of songs from a songwriter who can generate plenty of interest in what he has to sing, no matter how he performs it and no matter how new or unfamiliar those songs are.